New Blog……

I’m doing pretty much all of my writing over at- http://www.huntersfatback.com

Mostly KC food writing, but with all of the elections coming up in the next two years and the onslaught of unbelievably stupid fundamentalism inbred with politics, I can never rule out coming back here to ramble about some kind of shit.

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Ra Sushi: Leawood

You have to be a real asshole to resent your baby.  At least that’s what I used to believe.  It wasn’t until I was actually at that crossroads when I realized…there are extremely valid reasons to resent your child. For example, when you realize that the time and money associated with raising the kid is going to cost you something you and your wife have dreamed of since January 7, 2013.  What’s the significance of that date?  Well, if you don’t follow every Housewives show on Bravo like we do, you probably don’t realize that January 7 was the premiere of the show Vanderpump Rules.  And if you’re not serious foodies like we are, you also don’t know that the show focuses on the inner workings of Sur; a destination that has been the object of our obsession since we learned that Lisa Vanderpump was opening this sexy, tres chic alternative to her other restaurant, Villa Blanca.  But now we’ll have to scrap any plans to visit anytime in the next couple of years thanks to this kid.  When we’re watching reruns on DVR, we’re careful not to look at her and go “It’s YOUR fault!”, but emotions run high and mistakes do happen. We had pretty much resigned ourselves to never being able to experience the height of culture and fashion, and the all-encompassing vibrance that the Los Angeles dining scene has to offer.  But that whole attitude changed one day recently when a friend rekindled that hope.  The request was simple- I had not taken my wife out for sushi since before she was pregnant, so I wanted to find someplace nice….super classy and sophisticated, with a good energy, but less rapey than what one might find in the Power and Light District.

“Have you heard of Ra Sushi?”, they asked me.

“Yeah, isn’t that out in Town Center Plaza next to Dick’s Sporting Goods and Panera?”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, buddy….it is NOT at Town Center Plaza, it’s at Park Place Village…across the street from Town Center Plaza.  It’s just the kind of classy you’re looking for, and the parking garage makes it much less like a strip mall.  Plus, there’s a cupcake store and one of those upscale barber shops.”

Well, what the hell.  Maybe it wouldn’t be the same as eating at Sur, but the promise of mediocre sushi and improvisational courting antics courtesy of “Puma Wednesdays” made it the closest thing we’d be finding for awhile….so we headed out to the land of prefab developments based on tourism photos from larger cities in the early 90’s.  I think of it as “Earl’s Scottsdale”.

It’s quite a drive from north of the river, and the fact that we drove past so many restaurants we already knew were good really upped the anticipation.  But my friend was right, the addition of the parking garage gives the impression that you’re going to have to work just a little harder to get where you’re going, so it was kind of urban-y but without any of the loitering Westport rank and file.  We did have one very strange encounter between the parking garage and the front door.  While there isn’t exactly a lot of street parking, there are a few spaces between the entrance and the garage.  As we got closer to the entrance, we noticed a small group of six or seven men flanking a vehicle parked near the curb.  It is kind of hard to describe exactly what was going on…the closest comparison I can think of would be early to mid-90’s footage of rockabilly youth in Japan, dressed in rolled cuff jeans, white t-shirts, motorcycle jackets with extremely exaggerated ducktail hairdo’s and huge sideburns.  They were all just kind of shimmying around this Kia Soul with the back gate open, and Bowie’s “Suffragette City” blasting and cracking the cheap speakers.  That seemed like a really weird combination of things, but the closer I got I realized…they were all middle aged Indian men.  And I’m pretty sure I worked with one of them across the street at Sprint about ten years ago.  It was a lot to take in, but it was the constant (not exactly synchronized) movement that was most off-putting…constant swaying, fidgeting to get just the right hand-in-pocket poses, assorted Zippo lighter tricks….I wasn’t sure if it was purposely ironic like the movie Johnny Suede, or if we were about to witness a “Greased Lightning” flash mob.  I was planning for us to walk right past and do our best to forget about it, but the guy I recognized started walking over. At first I thought it was to say hi to me, but he made a bee line for my wife.

“Heeyy there Ms. Lady coming to Puma night! Why you don’t bring some more ladies instead of this turd?”

Thinking he was just screwing around because he remembered me, I was like “Hey man!  You still at Sprint?”

“Whooo the fuck you think you talking to?  I’m talking to the lady about Puma night, boy.  You out of your league, so go over and tickle some Aaron Sanchez nuts across the street at Mestizo before it gets hurting here! He might let you wash dishes, fucking turd!

I was convinced he was just really committed to this joke, “Yeah, you literally worked two cubicles down from me, how’s it been going?”

“WHAT THE FUCK YOU THINK THIS IS?  We don’t need no more sausage at this party, boy. Leave the lady, but I think she has your PURSE!”

Finally catching on, I wasn’t sure how to respond to this level of ineffective badgering.  I wasn’t afraid, these guys were tiny, but I was really, really wanting to check out the sushi, and at this point we’d gotten the attention of his posse.  They didn’t stop with any of the shimmying or posing, but they just kind of started drifting over our way and forming a perimeter.  It was not unlike the Martin/Aykroyd wild and crazy guy dance. Just meaner.

“YOU AIN’T GONE YET FUCKING PUSSY?!?!  Am I a joke here to you or some thing?  Am I your bitch ass chai wallah out here?  You thirsty pussy?  As soon as I get done selling this data plan I’ll be right with you!  I been stealing rides on trains all day but I can still show you around the Taj Mahal motherfucker!  Special rate for white turds! You think I’m joking?  Piece of shit!  Wanna see some fucking jai ho dancing?  I do it on your broken DICK!

At this point I figured what the hell. Zero danger unless these little bastards had tiny switchblades. “Hey, I love Sha Na Na!  Which one of you is Bowzer’s SHIT?”

Fucking switchblades.  This night was not going well.  You’d think after living out this scenario a few dozen times at Sprint, I would have remembered the switchblades.  I told my wife this would probably take a few minutes, but to head inside and get us on the list for a table.  As the wee Roy Orbisons closed in, a well dressed gentleman burst out of the front door of Ra.

“Sumit!  I have TOLD YOU a HUNDRED TIMES to LEAVE PEOPLE ALONE!  Haven’t I?”

“Yes Sir. Sorry.”

“You and your boys are to stay at least fifty feet from the entrance on Puma Wednesdays!  Are we going to have to file a restraining order like we did for Milf Mondays?”

“No Sir! No! Sorry Sir!  We’ll stay off the property!”, but then he looked right at me and mouthed “Fucking PUSSY!”  So this clearly wasn’t over.

“Folks, I am so so sorry, please, come right in and we’ll get you a table!  Welcome to Ra Sushi!”

“Thanks! Hey, did you say there’s Milf Mondays too?”  I was a little pissed I didn’t know about that. It would clearly be superior to Puma Wednesdays, culturally speaking.

“We haven’t had them for about three months now.  Long story, but we had some staff suffering recurring nightmares due to Milf Mondays, and before someone pulled OSHA into the mix we cancelled them.  But Puma Wednesdays are great!  Anyway, sorry again about that silly Sumit. He’s actually a very nice man. Faithful customer. If you need anything at all, my name is Greg.”

The only other minor hiccup we experienced was being seated in a windowless room next to the kitchen, along with Fred Durst and that little old lady who died in the movie 54.  Oh, and a Steampunk couple.  Clearly, they did not know I am “PX” in many fine establishments AND my Yelp reviews have received “Review of the Day” status on numerous occasions. Nobody seats us in the section of the damned. After showing my Yelp Elite profile to the Hostess, the problem was quickly remedied.  So FINALLY, we felt that we had arrived at the infamous Ra Sushi.  And while we may not have had Jax or Stassi from Sur to wait on us, we received the most cheerful confirmation that we were indeed at the right place at the right time.  Shortly after we were seated, the Britney Spears song “I Wanna Go” began playing.  It was the theme song for what was arguably the best ever “Summer By Bravo” commercial from back in 2011, and I could not think of a more pleasant way to begin our meal.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret…..Ra is actually a buffet.  A buffet of style and culture. The interior is the perfect combination of Z Gallerie and Hot Topic, with low lights, dark finishes and geometric accents.  A loyal commitment to black and red.  Sure the dark finishes are probably harder to clean, there is the occasional hand stuck to the table, but appearance is what’s most important.  And the great thing is, they not only have an early and a late happy hour, but almost every night has some sort of theme in between them that has drink and food specials as well.  Pretty smart on their part.  When you’re putting out that kind of volume, presentation takes a back seat, so it really takes the pressure off and adds to the trendy indifference vibe.

We anticipated a much larger crowd for Puma Wednesday.  We were hoping for a packed house energy that would transport us out west, but it was strangely quiet.  We did have a table of sharp looking thirtysomething men next to us. And by sharp looking, I mean that they had on those really cool jeans with the bedazzled crosses on the pockets, and tight fitting button down shirts with the same big crosses…but embroidered.  And flip flops.  It takes real moxie to pull off flip flops when you’re a male older than ten and there’s no pool in sight. They didn’t seem to be having a great time, but they perked up when the server came over to take their drink order.

“Would you gentlemen care to start with a cocktail?  I see you’ve got our list of Puma Wednesday drink specials!”

“Yeah, I’ll have a Summer Breeze Vagiplasty. Ciroc in that if you’ve got it.  Oh, no homo.”

“I’ll have the same, but whatever you’ve got in the well is fine.  No homo.”

“I’m gonna try the Kegel Kooler.”

“Raspberry or Kaffir Lime with that, sir?”

“Kaffir Lime.  No homo.”

“Kaffir Lime….that’s my favorite!  And for you sir?”

“I’ll have the I Know, Right???  Up instead of on the rocks.  No Homo.”

“That sounds kind of homo”, his buddy chuckled.

“Just leave it alone Todd!  I like the little ice chips from the shaker! DAMMIT!”

“Thank you gentlemen, I’ll put those orders in and be right back to talk about dinner!  Oh, I should go ahead and mention that we’re sold out of the Honey Mustard Maki Rolls.”

Propelled by a gust of disappointed groans, the server headed our way.  She was way friendlier than one would expect in a restaurant that’s trying to corner the suburban exclusivity market.  That would be my only complaint about the service.   Other than that, very professional.  First off, I had to inquire about the sparse, predominantly male and assorted couples crowd.  Was this normal for Puma Wednesday?  Where were all of the Cougars pretending to be young enough to be Pumas?

“Oh, are you two swingers? White Rock Garden night is actually THURSDAY….”

“Oh no. God no. Nothing like that.  My friend just said that Puma Wednesdays were as close to a happening Los Angeles scene as you’re going to find in Kansas City.”

“Oh NORMALLY, it is. It’s usually very happening in here.  I think most of our usual ladies are at a fundraiser tonight down at The Bullet Hole.  Kris Kobach is hosting a Bullets for ‘Bortions pro-life rally.  It’s similar to those Beer Pong for Babies type fundraisers, but his whole thing is that new laws are always a good idea unless they involve guns.  Apparently his events are a great place to find guys who aren’t very good at arguing with you!”

Oh well, there would be other Puma Wednesdays.  Apparently the crowd who wants to make the world safe from voter fraud that doesn’t actually exist had won this round. We were feeling pretty defeated, and decided we’d have the drinks we ordered and leave.  Food isn’t the reason you come to a restaurant like Ra, so we would return another time when we could enjoy the spirit of outdated concepts and vacuous attitudes.

As we were waiting for the server to pick up our tab, I headed to the men’s room in preparation for the long drive north.  A huge surprise awaited me!  What’s that you ask?  I shit you not, Ra Sushi has a DJ in the bathroom! Right there in the corner, near the paper towel dispenser, is a full DJ station. And it is LOUD in there! I don’t know if Dubstep is the usual choice, but the telltale Casio keyboard and WHU-WHU-WHU-WHU-WHU had begun ramping up as I walked in.

Loud and CROWDED!  No kidding, there were about eight urinals along the wall and I got the only one that wasn’t in use.  I looked over at the DJ station and asked the guy next to me, “Hey, is that DJ Ashton Martin?”

“No, he hasn’t played in here in about six months.  That’s DJ Fiat Abarth.  Ashton Martin has gone off the charts lately, you can’t get him to play a toilet north of 135th anymore!”

It took me about ten more seconds to realize…nobody was moving.  No flushing, nobody leaving, nothing.  In a full bathroom, no peeing was taking place.  Since the guy next to me was aware of the rise and fall of Ra’s Ashton Martin period, I asked him what the hell was going on.

“Waiting for the drop!”

“What?”

“The drop man, the DROP!  This song is just taking a little longer, but still, no pissing before the DROP!”

“I really have to go!”

“We ALL really have to fucking go, man!  But trust me buddy, save it for the drop. You’ll see!”

It’s hard to tell with Dubstep, but it sounded like we weren’t TOO far from the drop.  The WUH-WUH-WUH-WUH had gotten loud enough to change the air pressure in the room, and through my strained eardrums I could hear ocean waves start to feather into the mix.  Then all of a sudden- silence, gong, a single dog barked, Optimus Prime screamed “NO HOMO!”, aaannnd the DROP!

A wave of relief made its way down the row of men as the streams of urine found purchase. That guy wasn’t kidding.  You wait for the drop.  Between the relief of urination and the pressure in the room going back to normal, I finished my business on a wave of euphoric contentment.  The disappointment of a Puma-less Wednesday was far behind me as I went back out to meet my wife and head home.  As we walked outside, I spotted that crazy Sumit and his friends perched on the hood of the Kia Soul, a safe distance from the front door.  He was as good as his word.

“HOPE YOU HAD A GOOD TIME, PUSSY!”, he screamed, “BE SURE TO BRING YOUR WOMAN BACK SOON, YOU FUCK! ”

Oh, I will.  Trust me Sumit, I’ll be back.  While our evening did not turn out as we had hoped, the promise of Los Angeles evenings in the Midwest was strong enough to draw us back, floating in on the siren’s song of the Pumas.

Ra Sushi

11638 Ash St.

Leawood, KS 66211

913-850-6260

http://www.rasushi.com/

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

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Filed under Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Kansas City, Kansas City Food Scene

Quad Macchiato Quest 2013…

PREFACE:
 
 
I’m not a coffee nerd, but I know what I like.  I’ve roasted my own coffee for about a dozen years and have narrowed my favorite beans down those from Ethiopia, Yemen and Sumatra (respectively- Harar, Mokha Ismaili and, when available, any available well aged Sumatran).  During the winter months when I’m less inclined to trek back and forth to the garage to roast beans (in my Poppery II Hot Air Popcorn Popper…the only method I’ve ever used), I venture forth to try the various local offerings in Kansas City.  I like to see how my beans hold up against the professionals, and I do love espresso and espresso drinks…enough to know that I can’t have a machine in my house.  I get obsessive enough just owning French Presses, Moka Pots and a Chemex.  For the past few years, whenever I’d visit a local coffeehouse my drink was usually a four shot/quad latte.  In the last couple of months I’ve switched to the quad macchiato.  The basic definition of a macchiato, another coffee term hijacked and bastardized by Starbucks, is espresso “stained” with a little milk. Depending on where you go in KC, you’ll get a little bit of milk (sometimes half and half) added or a small cap of foam.  The macchiato has nothing to do with massive doses of Torani syrups thrown into puke-burp quality coffee.
 
Again, not a coffee nerd.  To people who are mildly interested in coffee, it probably sounds that way.  But to an actual coffee nerd, it would be like calling someone who has only watched the Star Trek movies a Trekkie.  I drink my coffee incredibly fucking strong however I want it….usually the Moka Pot or French Press, and I’ll add a little sugar and half and half.  I don’t own a timer, I don’t bloom the grounds first, weigh them by the gram, or hold it too sacred to pollute with dairy.  I appreciate and respect that level of dedication, and happily drink what those folks serve me, but at the end of the day I’ve just built ritual around my preferred caffeine delivery system.  I drink the shit sttrrrooonnggg, so espresso for me is just a way to guarantee I can actually taste coffee flavor.
 
DISCLAIMER:
 
I don’t remember what initially inspired me to go on a quest to find Kansas City’s Best Quad Macchiato (for this quest I drank them as served, I never add anything to store bought coffee drinks, and if it was a place that used half and half I always made a 2nd visit to have it with whole milk in order to even out the data), but I need to throw in some disclaimers here to nerd-proof it.  I learned my lesson after writing a post about the wonders of dilaudid after surgery, because it brought out the fucking narco nerds who would throw unsolicited corrections at me and fight with each other over the fucking definition, history and usage of dilaudid.   So in case one of my tags gets on a coffee nerd’s radar……. I chose the quad macchiato because I like to drink it.  I chose the locations based on who serves locally roasted beans only, so this didn’t take me 2 years.  I don’t do too many flavor profile musings beyond basic flavor, mouthfeel and finish. I didn’t drive each place insane with a bunch of questions about their espresso blends and milk ratios (so when I provide that info it will piss you off with its inconsistency). I am aware of the inconsistencies inherent to a blanket “BEST of KC” label because the quality of a shot can vary based on the barista, the blend on any given day, the machine, variations in the roast levels, and even the goddamn crop year of that particular bean. Short story- this is 100% subjective and more than anything an advertisement for the wealth of awesome coffee we have in KC.  I promote local businesses. It’s kind of my thing. The preface simply serves to let coffee fans know I’m not just some random Starbucks junkie who still hasn’t stopped masturbating to the fact they now produce a “blonde” roast….
 
 
RESULTS:
 
 
LatteLand Briarcliff- 4115 North Mulberry Drive
Coffee: Kaldi’s
 
The reasons I’m starting with a large local chain that serves coffee roasted in St. Louis are: #1- it’s where I made the switch to the macchiato, #2- the Saturday morning crew is nice as hell, and #3- I’m not leaving out the place that served as my Saturday pre-meeting coffee supplier/sponsor-sponsee status check spot for a couple of years.
 
If you like a predominantly Central American blend(sometimes single origin) with a minimum of milk/foam, this is your macchiato.  I don’t dislike it, the all-brightness-all-the-time flavor profile is just something on the opposite end of what I’m used to.  Huge shiny finish in this cup. What I like about this drink is the lack of balance in flavor; I’m not a huge fan of harmony in the cup unless it’s pretty exceptional.  I like a big punch in one direction, the direction here just isn’t the one I love most.  The medium quad latte and the medium, iced and undiluted toddy both remain my workhorses at this location.
 
 
Parkville Coffeehouse- 103 Main Street Parkville, Mo
Coffee: Parkville Coffee
 
It literally cannot get any more local for me, so I’m a bit biased here.  They roast all of their own coffee, and always have a good selection of whole beans. I’ve been using a lot of their Sumatran at home lately; it has the telltale “liveliness” I associate with fresh beans when they’re steeping.  They pour a generous quad macchiato…a decent amount of milk but the espresso remains on the forefront.  Not as much of a balance in flavor as it is a fight for the middle ground….the earthiness associated with African/Indonesian beans from start to finish with that Central American sharpness riding shotgun. It’s a good cup of coffee, the mouthfeel isn’t gigantic but the finish lingers a while.  Happy to have this as a Saturday morning contender, and they’re hoping to have the roasting area in the back built out enough to have cupping classes or tastings at some point.  Look forward to me never shutting up about that once it happens.
 
One More Cup- 7408 Wornall
Coffee: Roasterie
 
This was kind of an accidental addition.  The one coffee roasted outside of KC I wanted to throw into the mix (due to the popularity amongst actual coffee nerds) was PT’s in Topeka.  One More Cup was one of the only places in town that advertised PT’s as one of its brands, so when I was in the area I stopped by.  They serve PT’s as a drip coffee, but Roasterie for espresso.  I wasn’t planning on including Roasterie, just because their production is on a scale that goes well beyond the intent of what this was about.  One More Cup does a unique macchiato, with a pretty firm cap of foam keeping the milk and coffee well separated.  The organic fair trade beans in this espresso are listed on the Roasterie’s site as Ethiopian, Sumatran and Guatemalan.  I’d like to taste what a smaller roaster could to do leverage the individual characteristics of these beans.  Not bad coffee, not at all, tons of flavor but kind of one-dimensional….like the intent was to make it taste like espresso is supposed to taste instead of playing with the balance and letting it evolve on its own.  They do pull a nice shot at One More Cup, they are incredibly friendly and enthusiastic about all things coffee, and if I still lived in Waldo I’d be in there often. Nice coffeehouse, and they put their heart and soul into doing it locally and organically whenever possible. If I were going to go off the reservation, they’ve got some drinks featuring Shatto flavored milks that are probably worth investigating…Root Beer Chai, for example.
 
 
Black Dog Coffeehouse- 12815 W 87th St Pkwy, Lenexa, KS
Coffee: PT’s Coffee Roasting Co. (Topeka)
 
 
I went to Black Dog because it’s the one place I found that would definitely be serving PT’s coffee.  From the few coffee blogs I’ve read, it’s a well respected brand and since it’s based in Topeka I was willing to give it “local” status for comparison purposes.  The staff at Black Dog is efficient and they pour a generous macchiato with a pretty perfect balance of foam/milk and espresso.  I’m not sure which of PT’s espresso blends they were using on that day, or if the selection varies, but this was a well balanced cup that I actually liked.  Not a monster sized flavor profile or finish, a little subtle compared to something I’m wild about, but the first thing I thought was “this tastes like the espresso that Roasterie SHOULD be doing”.  Some brightness as well as darker flavors, medium finish…a coffee I’d revisit in order to have a straight shot and build a better baseline.  The coffeehouse is in an area of town I rarely have a reason to visit, but it’s pretty friendly and relaxed.  I’m an old man compared to the majority of the clientele, but if you do not like hipsters you would not like the “casting call for the 2013 remake of Reality Bites” vibe.  The baristas are really nice, they like to talk shop, so the neck-beardiness has a minimal impact if you’re serious about your coffee.
 
 
Homer’s Coffee House- 7126 W 80th St  Overland Park, KS
Coffee: E.F. Hobbs
 
 
I feel bad for a barista who has to sheepishly ask if you want a real macchiato or a Starbucks style drink.  Because if I haven’t mentioned it, what they serve at Starbucks isn’t coffee.  Not even the plain coffee is coffee…it’s the result of filtering the remains of what used to be run of the mill shitty coffee that has been carbonized in order to give it an infinite shelf life and an immediately recognizable puke-burp flavor.  BUT the wildly enthusiastic baristas at Homer’s go from sheepish to ecstatic once they realize they get to make an actual espresso drink.  Long story short, I can’t give the place many points for a flavorful espresso, but it’s a great operation…large space, big menu, top notch staff.  If it were my local shop, I’d go back because it’s not like they’re serving dirt water….the flavor just starts off limp, faintly beeps the radar a couple of times, and then dies off.  Plus, what’s there is more on the “brightness” scale that’s not my favorite.  As it is with any type of review, I’d need more than one trip to really render a verdict in order to be fair.  When I’m at the OP farmer’s market this spring I’ll stop back in, but for now I’ve got no shortage of great coffee in town.
 
Parisi Café- Union Station, 30 W. Pershing Rd.
Coffee: Parisi
 
Going to Union Station is kind of an event, and the Parisi’s location inside the main entrance is worthy of “destination” coffee drinking.  Not huge, but a bright, clean space with great barista’s, local pastries, and a wealth of for-real coffee making paraphernalia for sale.  They do real coffee here…something I wouldn’t necessarily expect in a place where there’s no shame in bringing your screaming children on a Saturday morning.  Parisi coffee will be something I investigate a little more as far as home usage, because their espresso was just different enough to set it apart.  The construction of their macchiato is totally minimalist…probably the closest to a “proper” example I had during my research. Espresso truly just “stained” with a little milk foam on top…enough to add smoothness to the mouthfeel without hindering the strong coffee flavors in any way.  This one started off with the telltale shiny-brightness on the front end, but the finish was longer than I expected with some real spice flavors on the backend.  I’m not good at pointing out specific flavors on the broad spectrum, but something along the lines of anise, nutmeg, that sort of thing.  A good little kick.  If I were in the neighborhood during off-hours for heavy traffic, this is a place I’d continually revisit….the coffee is very good and the building adds a lot.  Not sure at what point they stopped doing any type of parking validation at Union Station, but only the first 30 minutes is free if you park in the garage….so keep that in mind.
 
 
Revocup- 11030 Quivira Rd  Overland Park, KS
Coffee: Revocup
 
 
Again, there is not a whole hell of a lot that is going to drag me to 110th and goddamn Quivira, but reading that the owners of Revocup are natives of Ethiopia and that they roast a predominantly African selection of beans in-house forced me to investigate.  Located in a strip mall in Hell City, Hell, with a very homey next-door neighbor kind of vibe, Revocup serves a fantastic macchiato.  Based on my personal favorite flavor profile, I’d put them in the top three spots on this adventure.  This earthy, spicy, heavy, monster finish cup is one I’d go back to again and again if it were even remotely convenient.  Like Benetti’s, they use half and half in their standard macchiato, which is fine by me, but for comparison purposes I’d say it doesn’t lose much at all when substituting regular milk. Big mouthfeel and flavor, the initial brightness dies off fast and gives into the bitter richness. Strong, tongue-coating finish with a jolt of flavor at the very end that would almost make you think you were drinking a spicy flavored coffee.  They have a loyal and knowledgeable staff that will always give you an honest opinion about what they personally prefer and why….if you live where this could be your regular stop for coffee, I cannot recommend it highly enough.  I’m biased because they basically brew exactly what I already love to drink, but what an incredible surprise out in the ‘burbs.
 
 
Benetti’s Coffee Experience- 6109 Blue Ridge Blvd, Raytown, MO
Coffee: Benetti’s
 

I didn’t start this thing to claim I found the “BEST” in Kansas City, because coffee is just so subjective.  I think the OCD nerdiness eclipses beer and wine combined when you get into nuts and bolts of what constitutes coffee aficionado conversations and strong opinions.  With that said, MY personal favorite quad macchiato in all of KC can be found at Benetti’s.  Now, they DO use half and half in their standard drink, but I tried it more than once with regular milk just to make sure the ultra-lush feel from the added milk fat wasn’t skewing my opinion.  This particular macchiato is absolutely perfect in flavor and milk ratio.  Their espresso blend has most of the predominant elements I found in other examples, but the balance is exactly what I am looking for.  Bright sunshine from what I associate with Central American  beans, immediately passes under some storm clouds of more earthy/spicy/slightly bitter flavors that come from the other side of the world.  It’s a full rotation of the earth in every sip.  It’s a thinker. Very long finish, about as complex a cup as you’re going to get when adding milk. I use half and half a lot at home, because I’m convinced that there are flavors/chemicals/oils in my super strong brews that are more soluble and disperse better with a little fat.  The Benetti’s macchiato helps to bolster that opinion (this is where an ultra-nerd fight could kick off, just FYI).  In addition to a fantastic drink, the place is easy to find, located in a part of town where it’s a godsend, parking is ample, the staff knows what they are doing and are extremely friendly (and they remember you and what you drink), and their selection of house roasted beans is always rotating quickly. Locals from every background can be found there at all hours.  If you’re in the area, this is a place to try.  

 

Broadway Café- 4106 Broadway
Coffee: Broadway Roasting Company
 

If you think I’d leave out the Grand Poo-Bah of locally roasted, Starbucks slaying coffeehouses, you’re a totally different kind of fucking insane.  Actually, what REALLY set this whole Macchiato Quest in motion was when a friend commented to me on Facebook after I was crowing about the supremacy of Benetti’s version…..”I think John Cates might disagree with you”.  Well shit, point taken.  How could I go compare Broadway if I wasn’t also going to do include every other coffeehouse that roasts their own?  So there you have it.  Long story short, Broadway serves a fantastic macchiato that I would drink all the time if I weren’t an old man who hates dealing with Westport (but I am getting to one of their tastings soon…another trend they pioneer that should be followed by all local roasters).  Good ratio of milk to espresso, and I find the overall flavor profile to be the King of Balance in this particular quest. Constant, steady flavor, great finish, no huge peaks and valleys…the flavors run parallel, and my drinks were always gone before I was done thinking about them…a good sign.  Thinking back to the flavors, the closest drink to Broadway’s was the PT’s coffee I drank at Black Dog…hopefully that’s a compliment considering the nerd love that PT’s gets. Broadway is a for-real coffeehouse, I don’t think I need to expound on the knowledgeable staff, huge menu, and selection of fresh roasted coffees….out of all the places I’ve visited, this is the place where I’d first point anyone interested in finally getting away from the macro-batch roasting operations.  They are well equipped to provide a delicious, unpretentious education for any and all levels of coffee lovers.

Oddly Correct- 3940 Main Street
Coffee: Oddly Correct
 

You gotta save the most divisive “new” kid on the block for last.  Oddly Correct is what I think of as the Justus Drugstore of coffeehouses…you’re going to get something very fantastic with very little wiggle room allowed for modifications.  Also, similar to talking with Jonathan Justus about food, you better buckle in tight because there is no hard limit on how deep the coffee conversation can go….you might get fatigued if you’re not constantly reloading the caffeine.  I totally sympathize with the eye rolling and nearly complete dismissal of the place by some, based on the fact that you drink the coffee in a manner that they find is the best representation of that particular bean or drink.  I can’t really include them in the Quad Macchiato Quest, because there’s no quad macchiato.  And definitely no quad macchiato “to go”.  There’s a 3oz macchiato served in a demitasse with a side of sparkling water to cleanse the palate. And it is a stunningly beautiful and delicious drink.  There’s no espresso baseline for me to build upon, because the blends and selections are constantly changing.  Me, I love this place.  I’ll happily head over there from Parkville on a Saturday morning to “start a tab” as I work my way through a couple of different types of espresso and pourovers, and then head off to enjoy my day. Again, I can see where some can write the place off as pretentious or too preciously hip, but as someone who loves coffee I find it to be an incredible place for someone like me to learn about the craft.  I’ve roasted for years, I know what I like, I stick to what I like…so if someone can pour a single origin Central American espresso (that I actually enjoy) down my gullet and then engage me in conversation about that particular bean and the flavors I’m picking up from it…they are doing something great.  Not for everyone, but definitely for me.  Get past the initial “I can’t just have that to go?” shellshock, strike up a conversation, ask what you think are probably stupid questions, and you’ll quickly find that these folks love what they do and they want you to love it too. 

 

Sooo….these are my completely unscientific findings with no hypothesis to guide me other than I love me a fucking quad macchiato.  I’m always open to adding more places to the list as I discover more locally roasted beans, but as it stands I have to give Benetti’s the biggest shout out just because they make my personal favorite version. Revocup was a shocker….another cup I’d go back for.  Overall I didn’t find any “bad” coffee, just a full spectrum of examples with a few that hit me right in my comfort zone.  If this in any way helps to promote local coffee over the Starbucks and Caribous of the world, then bonus. If you love coffee, there is a lot to love in KC.  Just like our farmers and chefs, you’ve got a core group of dedicated people who are doing their best to hit a high water mark in their trade.  Now that I’ve chipped away at the top of the iceberg, it’s definitely a community I want to get to know much better just as I have those farmers and chefs.  Most importantly, I need to get to know them better so that I can make fun of them and write something that doesn’t make me sound like your run of the mill boring blog douche.  Because damn, the data here is solid but the delivery is shit-tay.  Wouldn’t you agree?

 

 
All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

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Filed under Coffee, Coffee Reviews, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Kansas City, Kansas City Food Scene

The Ribald Sophisticate’s Guide to Food Fighting…

On the evening of February 11, 2013, while participating in CCVI Food Fight 4 at The Guild in Kansas City, I finally became a Foodie.  If you know me, I have never viewed that as good thing.  In fact, my mockery of foodies has fueled many a chortle on this very blog.  I’ve met many self-proclaimed foodies whom I don’t think actually like food, they just like to collect food moments….so they use this ambiguous label that has no actual definition as a way to carve out a self-promoting niche based on what makes their particular brand of chewing and swallowing unique and a potential object of great envy.  For the most part, “foodies” aren’t the people I want to eat with. I want to eat with some crazy motherfuckers who talk some crazy shit about some very unhealthy obsessions and always order way too much fucking food and tip well.  A “foodie” would waste time trying to think of a more palatable way of saying crazy motherfuckers before they wrote something like this and guilted everyone they knew into reading it.  I don’t have time for such things.  I’d rather entertain five crazy motherfuckers than five thousand boring motherfuckers.  

BUT ENOUGH OF THAT SHIT….I’m working on a classy piece here because dammit if it wasn’t the best time ever.  And I say that as someone who has attended some extremely hoity toity and professionally run galas and fundraisers, as well as helped organize far less hoity toity affairs. Food Fight was a hell of an event, top notch across the board.  A lightbulb had gone off in my head a few days prior, and as we were prepping onstage I told Howard Hanna “so tonight I’m officially a foodie”, to which he gave me his heartfelt congratulations.   I was like “Yeah, I have somehow managed to reap the benefits owed to people who break their backs in this industry on a daily basis by weaseling in at the last second and getting some of the limelight without doing any real work.  So that’s it. I’m a foodie now.”  So I can’t make fun anymore.  The foodies have won.

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I’m flippant about foodie culture, but in all sincerity it was a huge deal to be asked to participate in such an amazing event.  I’ve got some pretty crazy life experiences that just kind of appeared, so while I can chalk this one up to my usual dumb luck, other than Dave Crum’s massive crush on me and Dolly Wood being cool as hell I have no idea how this materialized.  I have a weirdly high level of insecurity when it comes to my place in the world, so I figured this was a matter of “let’s throw the poor Make-A-Wish kid a bone”.   That’s just how my mind works. And the awesome byproduct of that gaping hole in my psyche is always being “ON”….completely balls-out or zero….no game but my A-Game.  When I commit, I fucking commit.  When Dave asked if I’d be Alex Pope’s sous chef, there was almost zero hesitation.  A friend whom I respect asked me if I’d do something super cool that could have a positive impact, so not much thought needed.  The only hesitation I had was that, as a FOODIE, my livelihood is in no way tied to the food community…I’m just along for the tasty ride.  Even though they were looking for “civilian” sous chefs, several friends came to mind that may have been able to benefit from having CCVI Food Fight on their list of accomplishments.  To be honest, I didn’t go beg their case, I was too floored to have been asked in the first place and immediately flew into balls-out mode to prepare.  But in general, that’s how I try to approach this whole thing and why “foodie” has creeped me out….as someone skilled in the arts of bullshit and yapping away, it’s important to me to be authentic in my relationships.  I’m not saying that anyone who simply beams under that moniker is immediately inauthentic, but self-proclaimed titles have a way of allowing someone to bypass the consistent behavior that would normally be the path to high regard and respect. I live my life according to a program that breaks it all down for me.  I am lucky to count so many great people as friends.  That point was driven home to me when I read the list of all of the chefs and restaurants involved in Food Fight…no matter how stupid I ended up looking, I would get to look stupid in front of my friends.


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Looking stupid was actually task #2. Task #1 was to drive my chef crazy with my shocking lack of skill.  Oh, I’m a great home cook.  Give me enough time to prepare and a cookbook and I can make almost anything. And if it’s something I end up sucking at, I’ll just keep doing it until I get it right.  No such luck with Food Fight. I emailed Alex and basically said “I have nice knives and no knife skills, but I take direction well”.  But he’s a pro, a crazy busy chef who took the time to put my mind at ease.  The plan was…think of things we can cook quickly.  In an hour there’s only so much you can do, and my initial thought was that if I could stay out of the way, expedite simple tasks and handle some dessert prep, I could add value. In addition to getting my knives sharpened and practicing basic cuts on mirepoix and potatoes, I thought that a couple of doughs that don’t require yeast could be handy for sweet or savory preparations.  Alex mentioned he was bringing a deep fryer, so I tried finding a recipe for funnel cake/fritter batter.  I tried one that was a huge failure, but I also practiced on some pate a choux to make gougeres or profiteroles without realizing the shit fries up like a champ.  So going into Food Fight my entire plan was to bring sharp knives, parchment paper, a Japanese mandoline, my own apron and cutting board, piping bags with tips already attached, rubber gloves, various tools like peelers and thermometers, and to practice choux dough enough times for it to basically become a reflex action.  Oh, and to be an ambassador for Pointer Brand jeans and clothing….100% American made products that are a fitting rebuttal to Baldwin Denim for the poor and/or fat crowd.  Pointer Brand. Quality and Affordability, Made in the U.S.A.

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS   http://www.reamesphotography.com/

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS http://www.reamesphotography.com/

A bit of knowledge for future CCVI Food Fighters…cooking in a space that isn’t normally a kitchen is different from cooking at home.  Biggest differences?  No running water, a lack of large gas burners and ovens, and you don’t have all of the same kitchenware and serveware that you do at home.  If you have giant, blinding spotlights pointing at you at home already, then boom….you’re one up on the competition immediately.  I am missing those at home, so it took some getting used to.  Another advantage is if you already have four or five top local chefs milling about your kitchen.  A constant reminder that you do not know what you are doing provides a backdrop of nagging doubt that builds character.  I am a master at smiling and nodding when food talk goes over my head, but there’s no such thing as being TOO good at that.  Even if I know what something is, when I have a lot of terminology coming at me from different sources, it takes a few seconds for me to gauge how deeply I should commit to a conversation about saucisson or vadouvan.  Usually, if you just shut up you can piece it together from what’s being said.  But if you seriously have no clue whatsoever, the earlier you can admit that and ask a clarifying question the better off you will be in the long run.

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS   http://www.reamesphotography.com/

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS http://www.reamesphotography.com/

Another thing I learned was to be honest and to the point when Alex would ask me “you got that?” or “you get what I’m saying?”  There isn’t a lot of time to discuss technique or basic philosophy when you forget basic things like…adding water.  Chopped sweet potatoes and piloncillo cooking down too thick too quickly?  Add a little water.  Those same sweet potatoes bunching up at the top in the blender and not mixing?  You may want to consider adding a little bit of water.  I could theorize that a liquid may facilitate the process, but what kind?  Some sort of broth?  A simple infused syrup?  What would they use at Joe Beef? When I’m forced to think on my feet and act quickly, I forget things like water exist to help you, and which side of a peeler is the sharp side. But my pre-tipped piping bag, and identical backup piping bag (redundant systems), looked fabulous over by the blender that was top-heavy with large sweet potato chunks.  Chef Pope is a real pro, these guys could do something like this in their sleep, so when I did not wreck anything beyond the power found in adding more water, I felt very successful.  My main concern was whether or not I’d be any help to my chef, because being in front of a crowd, speaking in public or being onstage have zero effect on me.  And speaking of crowds, the place was packed, so it was actually a relief to have a comparatively vast expanse of space to work with on the stage.

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The format is part Iron Chef part Chopped.  Upon arrival you’re welcome to investigate the pantry as well as a cooler full of mandatory ingredients like cod, skirt steak, walnuts, piquillo peppers, salami and cheese.  Then right before the cooking begins they let the cutest child alive unveil the secret ingredient…sweet potato.   So there was a decent amount of time to get some sort of game plan together and hope that the secret ingredient didn’t destroy it completely.  As Alex was going over what he thought would work, the aforementioned smiling and nodding came in handy.  When a scaleable multi-course plan is required on demand, you leave it to the professionals.  A tartare first, followed by sautéed cod, and then funnel cakes.  I was on the hook for dough and working the secret ingredient into some whipped cream cheese.  Normally that wouldn’t be a scary plan to me, but everything leading up to this sentence should let you know how that became a scary plan to me. With the addition of sweet potatoes, chips were added to the tartare, sautéed potatoes and onion to the main, and a puree to the dessert.  Normally I’d have an annoying breakdown of each preparation along with exhaustive tasting notes, but shit went fast and in the end I think I had one bite of a funnel cake and I shared a Jacobson meatball with Howard. In the end, Doug Frost broke out of his Moscow on the Hudson impersonation long enough to praise the cod dish, and Debbie Gold was all about some funnel cakes.  Everything up to that point was a blast, so to have Alex win was an insane bonus to the evening.  A special thanks to Reames Photography for capturing proof that my emotional range is larger than pissed off and/or sarcastic….

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS   http://www.reamesphotography.com/

Photo by Reames Photography, Olathe, KS http://www.reamesphotography.com/

If I had to offer praise to foodies, I would say that they generally take more chances than I do.  They’ll take a chance and investigate whether or not a place like Mestizo is about as shitty as one would imagine with that concept in that location. I will not take that chance. At least not until I hear first hand from someone I trust that it’s worth investigation.  Because I keep my circle very tight and build outward very, very slowly.  Not because I’m special, or because I’m cool, but because I value things like loyalty, trust and friendship in a way that makes me someone with lifelong relationships that are very rarely disturbed by needless drama.  I take that with me into the world of dining and procuring goods, and again, have managed to build what I hope are lifelong friendships that also remain undisturbed by dramas or agendas.  If I’m cool, or fun, or funny, it’s because I’m able to be comfortable as myself and not a caricature that shifts with the trends and current places to-be-seen.  The amicable bullshitter persona is part of the package, for better or worse.  I don’t practice that or consciously think about it, it just exists.  But with all of the solemn omerta-ish duty to authenticity comes the tendency to be a total fucking control freak who simply expands his comfort zone rather than ever just get out of it.  An event like Food Fight helps me to remember a saying I have lived by less often than I should in the past four or five years….always have something in your life that makes you wonder what in the hell you are doing.  Foodies are probably better at that than me because they lack the insane vetting process I have and just go with the flow, taking the hits and the misses.  I still rule though, I mean, come on.

The bottom line is, the list of things that I love has to become larger.  The place in my life meant for others has to become larger.  The asshole with a heart of gold schtick, and years of ministry, allow me to skate by without putting in real work.  I’ve had a few years to get my shit together, and things are going better than I ever dreamed.  Marriage and fatherhood are the life for me.  I’m always going to help drunks, and I’m always going to be helped by drunks.  That is as natural as breathing at this point.  But it’s not the end game, it’s just part of the expanded comfort zone.  A friend contacted me out of the blue just a few days after I was asked to take part in Food Fight, and they asked me “as the restaurant guy, if I knew people who would want to get involved with a charity”.  I’ve been asked that question before, and should have done more before now, but this time it struck me differently.  The path that my life has taken, and the resulting laundry list of miraculous moments and fantastic people, is equal to the debt that I owe.  Now, I don’t have a bug up my ass to go and die from not being able to shit like Emile Hirsch in “Into the Wild”…..I’m not about to launch into reckless self discovery here…I’m just a lucky guy who should do more.  I’m good with people and I know a lot of people.  Something like helping with CCVI Food Fight in whatever capacity they need me (I won’t be a valet, not because it’s beneath me, I’m just not running back and forth) from now on is a no-brainer.  The organization my friend works for is another path to investigate.  Unexpected moments that are out of your control can be great practice at working towards a meaningful impact.  Broth is great, but sometimes water will do just fine.

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

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Filed under CCVI Food Fight, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Kansas City Food Scene

Best Food of 2012…

A few things…

#1- My “best of’s” always come after the first of the year.  This is due in part to the fact that I procrastinate, but also because I’m superstitious about discovering a place or a dish during the last week of the year that will torture me for twelve months before I can put it on the next “best of”.

#2- It’s harder than I thought to wrangle food folks for interviews over the holidays when they are busy as hell, but I continue to compile Squander Log talking points that don’t read like a goddamn Susie-the-foodie-got-herself-a-blog blog.

And #3- I’ve been preoccupied as shit for a very good reason.  The luxuries of not doing something for money or popularity include the ability to achieve greatness in writing very sporadically, and to be unfettered with worries such as….“If I include a Best Place to Get a Handy category, will it hurt my chances of becoming a “name” Kansas City Blogger?!?!?!?!?!”  (It’s Manifesto…I mean, I’m not speaking from experience and I’m not trying to be a disrespectful asshole here, it’s a fantastic place, but come on. It’s dark. You can’t tell me nobody has gotten pregnant in there.) I like doing something that my friends can enjoy that is just fucked up enough to eliminate any potential awkwardness that comes with the ubiquitous “I mentioned you on my blog. Can you please promote my blog?  It can help drive traffic to my blog. I have a blog. And I said you were good there. Can you please promote my blog?” horseshit.    If I say something good about you, it’s for your entertainment as well as my own.  The Handjobs-At-Manifesto thing is up at the top to protect you from sharing this all over the place. And I’m not saying my writing is any good, but there sure is a lot of it.  Respect the bulk of my best of list you sonsofbitches.

AND HERE ARE YOUR WINNERS!

Greatest Name in the Entire History of Any Type of Business”- Little Freshie   

They also win the award for “Wish it Was Closer to Home”, because I want to roll in there in my pajamas and somehow having to cross the river to get there makes it prohibitive.  I love Little Freshie, everything about it is good.  Seventy five years from now when the neighborhood has flip-flopped between gentrified/ghetto/gentrified/ghetto a few more times, I want it to be the local business with inexplicable staying power….similar to Italian Delight in KCK.

Fiercest Local Rivalry That Only I Am Aware Of”- Local Pig vs. Paradise Locker  

I’ll keep this limited to the topic of sausages in order to keep it brief.   Which is better?  The over the top flavor and texture of Local Pig’s goat chorizo, or the sustained deliciousness and flexibility of Paradise Locker’s smoked hot kielbasa?  I could reframe that question with various products that I love from both vendors, but it would all be the same scenario….which is better- foie gras or a Wagyu ribeye?  Uni or Razor Clams?  It all depends on the moment and the meal….all I can say is I shop at both places and they both serve a great purpose.  Paradise Locker is like home for me, if a steak is being grilled or a pork shoulder is being smoked at my home, there is a 99% chance it’s from Trimble.  When I’m in an experimental mood or hankering for a dash of depravity, Local Pig is a sure bet.  Meat eaters in Kansas City have many delicious conundrums through which they can fly on wings of caulfat.

 “Best Special Dinner That Needs to Happen in 2013”- Pasta Thunderdome with Howard Hanna and Michael Beard

I’m fucking serious.  I would give up my dream of an Offal Dinner in The Rieger’s PDR….twice….to make this happen.

Best Brunch”- Bo Ling’s   

There are 3 things about Brunch that suck. #1- No longer having hangovers that make breakfast food an option I actually give a shit about around noon on a weekend. #2- Choosing from a limited menu at a restaurant with a much larger menu any other time, because you always want something that’s not available and only a HUGE asshole asks for favors when dealing with a staff that probably got about 90 minutes of sleep between dinner service and brunch. #3- And this doesn’t really fit, but I want to complain about it anyway…people who try a favorite restaurant you’ve been recommending forever, but they go for brunch and then come bitch to you about “I’m not sure why you think that place is so special…..blah blah blah, all they had was eggs and you said they were very creative, blah blah blah, I deserve to be cuckolded, blah blah blah”.  ANYWAY- dim sum is the ultimate choice for brunch.  Bo Ling’s now opens at 10am on the weekends, and over the past few years my wife and I have whittled down a must-have selection of the best dishes.  So you can go choose from five goddamn dishes somewhere else or join us for the magical caravan at some point.

Best Beverage”-  Goya Ginger Beer  

Even if Chris Conatser hadn’t moved to goddamn Oregon and I could go have my onion shrub at Justus on a whim, I think I’d still pick this “Jamaican Style” Ginger Beer as the finest drink in all the land.  It’s like a delicious pepper spray in that you cannot breath through your nose and mouth at the same time as you bring it to your face or it will choke you the fuck out.  It burns and it gets the blood moving…an aperitif, digestif and palate cleanser all in one.  To compare it to any other soft drink would be like comparing the finest Van Winkle bourbon to a stale pool of simian urine evaporating in the Congo mud.

Best New Pork Dish”- Pig Tails at Port Fonda   

They also win the category “Some of the Best Reading on Yelp!”.  I’ve been loving some Port Fonda since the first lengua tacos were passed to me from the airstream window, so I’m a bit biased.  Their food is consistently great, and I am not scared of the hipster hordes,  Joco folks gone a-slummin’, the unimpressed moneyed people from the coasts, or foodies who bitch about how much cheaper the food would be at some magical taco truck tucked in the colon of a sketchy underpass.  The pig tails are everything that is good about a hot wing…but made of pork.  The food, the space and service are good enough to draw me from my anti-social hole to fucking Westport, so that says a LOT. And I personally like the music loud because I am happy to sacrifice some conversational abilities at my table if it means I can’t hear conversations at other tables, because that’s just how I am.  So, a third impromptu award for Port Fonda….”Best Inadvertent Enforcement of Personal Space”.

Best Appetizer”- The Italian Nachos at Cascone’s   

This is on the list every year, and will remain. The Italian Nachos are fantastic, some of the best food in the world.  They have no equal.

Best Burger”- The Jacobson Burger at The Jacobson  

Needlessly rich, huge and awesome.  Before you write off the “boutique burger” as a concept and turn into one of those Town Topic Nazis, go try this burger.  If you don’t like it, then you’ve got much bigger problems than an obsession with burger theory.  Rumor has it that Chef Smith held the record as biggest baby born in Chicago for an extended period of time….and THAT is the type of man you can trust to serve a great hamburger.

Meat of the Year”- Rabbit!

I give 2012 to rabbit in the hopes that 2013 will be goat. We’re starting to see some great goat-y foodstuffs, but between the bbq bunny at The Rieger (and the grilled rabbit hearts, and the poached kidneys in the steak and rabbit kidney pie, rabbit livers in the pasta….), the rabbit ravioli at 715 and a number of stuffed rabbit leg/loin dishes at Justus….this was the year of the goddamn rabbit.  Oh, and just FYI…while it may never end up as a staple on local menus, within the next 2 years I’d like to see horse on special.  Those of you who would cook it know who you are.  Let’s get on it.  If not horse, then at least get some spleen in the offal rotation.

Best Offal Discovery”- Rabbit! 

See parenthetical comments above.

Best Value”- it is a tie between the lunch deals at 715 and the $39 four course tasting menu at Room 39 (do a blind tasting).

Show of Respect to a Local Icon”- Farm to Market Bread   

As we were eating a loaf of sourdough along with some homemade KC Steak Soup the other night, it struck me….damn if we don’t eat a lot of Farm to Market Bread.   With the exception of various on-sale sandwich breads, FTM has sneakily become more of a workhorse in our kitchen.  I am crazy about bread and would never limit myself to FTM…Fervere, Le Monde, Bloom and New Traditionalist are other great examples that come to mind, but the bread we buy “as a staple” is most often Farm to Market (and sometimes I get the vibe from people that they are now “too big to still be cool”..which is bullshit).  Grains Galore is practically a meat substitute for me.  I’m trying to think of some smartassery to throw in here, but I’ve got nothing. Good bread is beautiful.

Greatest Food Related Words Uttered in 2012”- “What if Stroud’s served GOOD chicken?” (Anonymous)

 “The Thing I Managed to Fit Into Every Conversation This Year”-  Bossa from Green Dirt Farm   

I’d eaten Bossa before the Bourdain KC episode aired, but I had not insanely over-indulged in it.  And insane over-indulgence is how Bossa needs to be enjoyed.  Sitting and eating an entire, ripe and runny, funked out to the point of being questionable Bossa, or plunging it into the middle of a par-cooked frittata cooked over an open fire (as seen at Green Dirt Farm) is the only way to go.  Get the one that just reeks like hell and tear it up.  Pop the top and discover why it wins a second award- “Best Aroma to Make a Pregnant Woman Gag and Heave”.

Best Membership”- Howard’s Organic Fare and Vegetable Patch  

I know that my constant food-driven monologue mostly centers around my own interests and consumption, but anyone who really knows me knows that I’m pretty serious about supporting and promoting local businesses and producers whenever possible.  A huge part of the enjoyment of a meal comes from not only knowing the people who prepare your food, but the people who grow your food…and meeting other likeminded individuals who share your enthusiasm and learning from them as well.  Howard’s is a great example of what makes me love the food community in Kansas City…we are all about collaboration in this town.  I get pretty tunnel-visioned with my favorite local producers and suppliers, so it’s nice to learn there are far more of them out there than I even knew about, and Howard’s is a “hub” of sorts that provides great alternative sources in a very convenient manner.   This is a place that I constantly wish wild success because its success will be good for all of us.

 “Best Place Where I Try to Find Something Wrong In Order to Bust Some Good-Natured Balls But Never Can”- Bluestem  

They just kill it at Bluestem.  I only splurge on a dining room meal there once or twice a year, and when I do I like to go into sub-atomic breakdown coastal-foodie mode just to sharpen my chops.  I’ve been eating there since they opened, and with all of the great new restaurants that have arrived since then I’ll do the whole “is Bluestem still staying on top of it?” inner dialogue on the way there.  Then they deliver. Every time.  Composition, technique and flavor co-existing in perfect harmony. They make incredibly fucking good food.

The Finest and Most Exclusive Invitation-Only Dining Event of the Year”- White Trash Picnic at The Rieger   

Oh my word, what a time!  I’m not sure how we’ll handle invitations this year, but it’s safe to say that if you received a golden ticket last year, you’re grandfathered in this year.  And it will definitely be happening again this summer.  Some items like the crockpot meatballs and scalloped potatoes will probably have to remain on the menu to avoid rioting, but we’ll come up with some new stuff as well.  I’ve already discussed a unique idea for a Jello mold with Howard that will impress and delight.  No better place and no better staff to pull this off every year than our friends at The Rieger.  We will hit a new level of trashy.

 “Best Roadtrip-Worthy Dining Destination”- Lincoln Café in Mt. Vernon, Iowa  

I kid you not, take the five hour drive and check this place out.  Perfect concept, perfect execution.  This is the restaurant that needs to exist on every little Main Street in America.  For specifics you can always look at my lengthy writeup- http://unsavedlovedones.com/2012/04/23/lincoln-cafe-mt-vernon-iowa/

 “Best New Home Away From Home That Isn’t The Rieger”- Remedy   

Favorite restaurant in KC- The Rieger.  Favorite people in KC- The Rieger.  BUT we are always looking for places where the food is good enough, interesting enough, and shows a potential for evolution that will make us anticipate each new menu.  When the mood is laid back, the staff loves the food, and the restaurant can serve the dual purpose of a weeknight meal on a whim and a budget AND a full-blown Saturday date night meal…we have a winner.  We love Remedy.  It is the newest member of our rotation and will get our repeat business.  Eggplant fries, Sweet Potato Banh Mi, Pork Belly….three things they currently serve that are perfect examples of food everyone should eat often.

Favorite Way to Be Cool Without Growing Ironic Facial Hair or Listening to Shit Music That All Sounds Like that Mumford Pussy With a Violinist Who is NO GODDAMN WARREN ELLIS While Crafting Repurposed Goods With Old World Tools And Being Smug About It. And Wearing Clothing with Hooks Instead of Buttons Until I Realize It’s a Pain in the Ass.”-  Crossroads Social Club    

I’m not a cool guy, my main talent in the food scene is my ability to hold down a seat and run my yap, so I’m treating this like Fight Club.   I will say that I appreciate the spirit of the club as well as the people, and how it serves as a great equalizer that strips away the bullshit and lets us all get straight into the enjoyment of good food and loud interaction.  My only other comment is that if a motherfucker no-shows, that motherfucker should pay in blood.  But I guess that is a general belief that I hold close.  And I say it here because someone who actually has to deal with customers but can’t openly shame that particular brand of idiot in front of his woman can live vicariously if only for a moment.

Best Place for Group Dining”- 715

And by group dining, I’m not talking about someplace that has been beaten into submission by large families fresh from church who monopolize the entirety of time and space and then tip like crap.  I’m talking about some next level Seal Team Six shit.  People. Who. Know. How. To. Get. It. Done.  Anywhere between six and twenty quality individuals, and someone probably already thought ahead and gifted the kitchen with a bottle of whiskey.  Whether it’s six OR twenty people, you pretty much order the whole menu and the act of dining is a fun-filled collaboration between you, the servers and the cooks.  It’s a guaranteed good time. And if you’re NOT having a good time you’re at least smart enough to stay the hell out of everyone else’s way.  And the method of settling the check is “whatever is easiest”.  I don’t drink. I don’t buy alcohol. BUT I am giddy as shit to pay my share of the booze portion of the tab if it serves the purpose “whatever is easiest”.  And I don’t have to worry about people taking advantage because they are vetted dining professionals!  There is no on the job training. You need to bring these skills with you. Start by approaching twenty strangers in a restaurant and eating from their utensils. When that no longer bothers you, you’re on your way. The best place in the entire area for this meal to happen?  It’s 715.  It’s magical. Ask for extra Calabrian chile oil. And the entire menu.

So cheers to you 2012, blah blah blah…..gratuitous wishes for 2013, blah blah blah.

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

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Filed under Best Of, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Kansas City, Kansas City Food Scene

Three Years Goes By Fast…

About a month or so ago I was at a dinner at The Rieger, hosted by our CSA farmers.  Local, seasonal fare in familiar surroundings with great people.  When dessert was about to be served, they carted in a gigantic dish that must have held about 900 pounds of peach trifle and began putting it onto plates.  There was a lady sitting right next to me all night, and she was a huge foodie.  You knew she was a huge foodie with plenty of expendable income, because during her loud conversations throughout the meal she would not stop dropping the names of restaurants and their proximity to her McMansion in a Northland neighborhood. Oh, and she had her own catchphrase…..everything she enjoyed was “TO DIE FOR!”   Hey, I realize I’m just another fucking foodie, but I try to keep that shit a little closer to my chest when I’m shoulder to shoulder with strangers.  These alpha-foodies are everywhere, so you just kind of get used to the weird sense of entitlement they give off.  In a nutshell, they always want something just a little different than everyone else, and when they get it they chalk it up to their foodie credibility rather than recognize it as an example of great customer service.

So ANYWAY, dessert was being served.  I’m thankful to have a wife who is basically the canary in the mineshaft when it comes to food and drink that may or may not have booze in it.  More often than not, trifles contain some kind of straight/uncooked liquor, so as I had done five hundred times before I asked her to taste it when it came around so I’d know whether or not to eat any.  If I can’t eat something, either she can have it or someone around us can.  I’m not one of those PUSSIES who sits there factoring in the cost of the course they missed out on, especially when it’s a set menu.  It generally evens out, because for every bite of food I’ve missed due to my zero alcohol policy, I’ve gotten about twenty complimentary bites of food for just going with the flow.  For EXAMPLE, here is where the magic of The Rieger kicks in….right before dessert was being set in front of us, I got a heads up from one of our servers that “Howard has a different dessert for you”.  Different story for a different day, I’ll just say that my friends have my best interest in mind and for that I am deeply grateful. It turns out, 400 of the 900 pounds of trifle was pure bourbon.

But back to Mrs. To Die For…she was on about her third or fourth glass of wine she had to order special because whatever they continued pouring as part of the meal didn’t cut it for her.  Desserts came out…trifle, trifle, trifle, trifle, trifle, GIANT GODDAMN PEACH AND ICE CREAM DESSERT IN A CRAZY POST-MODERNIST BOWL, trifle, trifle trifle……and that little gem did not fly under her radar.  She didn’t SAY anything, but I swear to God she’d stare at my dessert, then stare at me, then at her dessert….back to me, then my dessert….she really mixed it up there for a couple of minutes. And I won’t lie, that shit is PRICELESS to me.  You could just see the squirrels racing around that brain as she tried to piece together some possible explanation as to why she was not aware of a second dessert option.  I guess in Magnificent Ambersonville the proper etiquette would have been for me to answer her weird stares with some explanation, as my lower social status dictates.  I did not do that.  I wanted to though. Because when you get the chance to look an annoying person in the eyes and totally deadpan “I’m an alcoholic”, it is glorious.  I let the moment pass, but I wished she had said something.  I wished she said something because I wanted to get all serious and tell her, “You don’t want any part of this dessert.  I had to earn this dessert.  This dessert has a dark past that you do not want to hear about.  The price of this dessert is cheating death.  It is LITERALLY to die for.  How’s that trifle?  Tell me where you girls like to go all Carrie Bradshaw these days.” 

My 3rd sobriety birthday was actually July 12, so the lateness of this post is either a sign of progress because I’m busy with life, or I’m just lazy and unoriginal as shit.  And now that I’m writing so much food related content, my yearly retrospective will seem a little clunky.  These long rambles are one way for me to preserve some major moments, and in the off-chance someone in recovery gets a laugh or someone who needs to be in recovery relates to something, it’s really for them.

For the benefit of newer friends, or those who have never been bored enough to peruse the archives, my openness about stopping drinking doesn’t come from a place where I’m evangelizing, or wishing to god I could have a drink, or trying to get attention for learning the basic life skills the majority of mankind already possesses.  I just don’t ever want someone to feel weird about it, because I sure as hell don’t.  It’s kind of like discovering you have a severe peanut allergy…except instead of peanuts it’s bourbon….and instead of getting a shot to keep your throat from closing up, it’s several days of medical detox to make the hallucinations go away followed by a basic maintenance regimen.  I can’t express how grateful I am for all of the kindness and consideration I’ve received at god knows how many dinners, but I don’t want anyone to ever feel like my proximity to their drink or the abundance of wine and beer on the table has an inherent risk of me deciding to fly off the wagon.  If it made me uncomfortable, I wouldn’t be there.  It took me a while to get to that point, and I still don’t have a cavalier attitude about it…..there’s the old saying “hang around a barbershop long enough you’re going to get a haircut”.  That’s why you’ll see me at a million different “foodie” events, but I generally don’t meet up at the bar before or after.  I don’t do wine/beer/liquor sponsored or themed events, and even though I know Amigoni’s space is THE SHIT, I don’t have a valid reason to be there on a random Saturday. I’m just thankful to be where I’m at, so I stick with what makes me happy.

I know tons of people, like my wife, who can drink normally.  I know tons of people who can drink ABnormally and not let it derail their lives.  To all of them I say- fucking drink up!  It’s just something completely different for me, my mind doesn’t work in a way that allows for moderation.  It’s like iced tea…I love some tea. Depending on how thirsty I am, I can drink several glasses.  But when I’m done, I’m done. I don’t feel compelled to drain every glass and I don’t rationalize having ten more before running back to my stash at home.  To think that there are people who view liquor in that way is something I literally cannot wrap my mind around.  There are still people who look at it like dick measuring…..they sometimes will pose the question “Well, how much did you drink?”, like if I didn’t drink as much as them or someone they knew there’s no way I could really have a problem.  Whether it’s random folks or newbies down at the hall, my stock answer is always “I drank until it couldn’t make me sick anymore”.  And that’s a true statement.  I could drink enough to pass out or black out, but at some point I crossed that fucked up line where there’s no stopping because you’d get really, really sick.  That’s why I literally crack up when some random free drink from a well-meaning server or bartender will land in front of me, and someone I’m with is just shocked or appalled by it.  I’ve got about five places to buy booze two minutes from my house, so there’s no fucking way I’m going to be one of those preachy drunks and go “Pardon ME Arturo!  I cannot HAVE this free taste of your mother’s boozy egg nog recipe!”…..I’m just like “who wants to drink this?”  Unless every person is sitting at the table with two massive steins filled to the brim with a quality beverage that only comes from Kentucky in front of them…..I really don’t rattle. At the top of my gratitude list is the fact that I just honestly have no desire for a drink.

So long story short, life isn’t just about not drinking for me.  If you’ve been sober for three years and it’s still only about not drinking for you, then you’re just a dry drunk.  I don’t know how else to put it.  You either don’t have a program or the one you have isn’t working for you, and you need to fix that shit. Now, when I’m talking to new folks down at the hall or when I visit my alma mater to speak to the fresh crop of recruits, I will say “always keep your bottom close to you”.  I keep mine very close, but I don’t dwell on it.  It’s like muscle memory, lying in wait on the off-chance I get fidgety or my mind starts to wander into euphoric recall mode.  I guess it would work something like this…..if a shrink was showing me flashcards of various items to have me name them, it would be a lemon and I’d say “lemon”, it would be a castle and I’d say “castle”, the moon and I’d say “moon, a bottle of Knob Creek and I’d say “these spasms are ripping out my spine, and I can’t see whoever it is that won’t stop saying my name”.  Am I merely programmed?  Did I just use some Pavlovian conditioning or the Ludovico Treatment as a crutch?  Don’t know, don’t really care.  I just know that a little over three years ago I could not function without drinking, and now I have a great life with a wonderful family and all sorts of new friends I wouldn’t have if I didn’t get sober.  I go to meetings, have a sponsor, and I help other people who want to stop drinking.  My program takes work, it takes time, my sobriety has been hard fought and hard won, but fuck all of that….what a small price to pay for living the dream.

Now, I’m not saying I made it out unscathed.  It kind of fucked up music for me for god knows how long.  I still listen to the radio, have my favorite bands and whatnot, but I have what can only be described as serious PTSD symptoms if I hear specific songs or let myself get into a music-driven emotional state.  They’re really random, nothing anyone I know has probably ever owned or is ever played in public spaces, but it all stems from a pretty dark period when they held prominence.  And honestly, if you could figure one out and spring it on me, I’d be pretty impressed.  Visibly shaken, but impressed.  I think even my wife only knows one of them.  And I will take them to the grave unless my sponsor goes “You need to get that shit out….that crap does not make you unique or special. Get over yourself.”

In my rambling I probably make all of this sound like more than it really is.  But after you remove the booze and get used to living life, it’s really only about learning the things you should have learned in kindergarten.  Drugs and alcohol have a way of limiting your ability to recognize and deal with things like your fear, need for control, selfishness and ego.  So you yank booze away from a sociopathic egomaniac, you are still left with the sociopathic egomaniac. There is zero magic in the cessation of the substance. And learning to deal with people and life events fucking blows. I just always try to be learning something, and as I draw closer to a new sobriety birthday I start reflecting on what the year has taught me.  Biggest lesson this past year? It will blow your mind with its INTENSITY….it’s “count to ten”.  Think before you speak. Take some time before you react.  NOT reacting takes a hell of a lot of strength, but nearly 100% of the time you benefit from not having to clean up a huge mess.

I’ve got a long way to go. It’s an election year and I love to reel in some fish. Some big, fat, evangelical fish.  And that’s fun and everything, but it’s merely a symptom of a much larger issue.  When angered, threatened or disrespected, I always only knew the nuclear option.  I only wanted to break something in a way that could not be repaired, and I have several assorted years of my life that I’m not proud of and are generally only spoken of in detail in a one-on-one setting when some good can come from sharing.  I’ve never been to prison, never even been arrested, haven’t killed anyone, but I’m jaded in ways that sobriety has forced me to come to terms with.  You meet people with some genuinely fucked up history, in sobriety, and that history becomes their identity.  The problem is, it becomes a caricature because that’s as deep as they go.  And if that’s as deep as you go, you’re going to relapse.  Period.  Full stop.  Around the tables I have heard some of the most soul crushing stories you can possibly imagine, and I have heard them come from the mouths of people you would never expect to hear them from. People who would not let it define them, who took the promises offered by the program at face value and carved out a new life. So that’s part of what I learned. I want to be like THAT person…anyone can be the douche with the checkered past and street-cred chip on their shoulder…they can be entertaining but they lack depth and substance and have very little to teach others. 

Sometimes “count to ten” can take months.  And in my quest for that goal I was tested pretty well last year.  A major, prolonged situation involved family who embody everything about evangelical hypocrisy that I loathe….an arrogant sense of entitlement, poisonous self-righteousness, a way of cherry-picking the parts of the Bible that defend their predetermined answers, and a gift for showing one face to the people in church and an entirely different one to the family.  In short, the situation was…a gesture of kindness from family members morphed into drama where everyone being in the same room has to be pre-planned and micro-managed.  There is a twisted, faux-Christian sense of entitlement that tells the worst part of someone’s nature “Yes, you did irreparable damage to your family, you took advantage and held them hostage with your love, used your faith as a weapon to cast blame and hurt, but hey, you told God you were sorry, so if they can’t rise to your standards and get over it then it’s their problem to deal with.” No amends, no making things right, just rationalize screwing people over and use your exit strategy from one fake and eg0-based ministry to another as a sign that you’re doing what God intended. 

So that’s the short version.  I wrote about four thousand words JUST about that situation at one point, so please appreciate my mercy in scaling it down to a couple of sentences.  I mainly bring it up to emphasize what I’m trying to learn about life.  If it were three years ago, the story which I allude to would have had a very quick, extremely excessive and unprecedented conclusion with zero consideration for collateral damage.  But that’s the problem with the nuclear option…collateral damage.  The thought of having to ever apologize for something keeps me out of a lot of trouble.  So I let that one pass, and I protected myself by being bound to a promise to someone that I would not let anyone get hurt. But hey, it’s STILL ME….so during the months when I was talking myself down from the overly dramatic, I went with the gentler option of compiling a massive amount of extremely telling and highly un-Christian information unbeknownst to these idiots that, given the proper audience and delivery, would unburden them from having to worry about working in ministry ever again.  I’ve made huge impacts on very large, very popular and corrupt ministries just for fun, so…when I’m highly motivated?  “Hypothetically”…their words against them courtesy of plenty of vicious text and audio, as well as publically available information and data (possibly involving monetary troubles at one point from porn addiction), lists of hundreds of current and former acquaintances and dozens of churches with emails, websites, and social media all processed through approximately twenty hilariously customized domain names that mirror an awesome website for the entertainment of all of the interwebs. 

So basically, a “hypothetical” Doomsday Device.  And hopefully someday I’ll reach a stage of enlightenment that allows me to deconstruct it or at least change it to where it would take longer than ten minutes to disperse some shock and awe.  I just don’t trust stupid…some people get some distance between them and their mess and get cocky, or they get some weird self-righteous vision where they think you MIGHT be bluffing and want to challenge you or talk some shit as a way of communicating their toxic definition of love.  I just want to keep learning as I go and have my “don’t start no trouble, won’t be no trouble” policy as a cautionary statement.  Because honestly, as you talk yourself down from one ledge to another, the secondary option is really no less nuclear than the first.   Knee-capping someone is bad, but constructing and using an involved technological answer to the same problem is bad too…AND creepy.  The moral of the story is that time passed….I made it from one to ten. Progress, not perfection, was achieved.  Thanks in no small part to my aforementioned dedication to a program, as well as learning from other drunks with longer sobriety that animosity is just baggage, and the momentary relief you get from decimating someone is quickly replaced by even more baggage caused by the fallout.  Taking pride in being “the guy who can destroy but doesn’t” is the same cheesy copout as being the douche with the checkered past.  

All things….that could have been learned…..in kindergarten.  It can be tedious….has to be a little bit like relearning basic skills after coming out of a coma.  Acknowledging other people exist, being happy for others, always letting someone merge into traffic, learning that humility isn’t the same as humiliation, doing something for someone without a hidden agenda, and processing emotions without freaking out ain’t exactly rocket science, but the journey is dotted with confirmation that I’m on the right track.  I never have to wake up in a panic about what I may have said or done the night before.  I can recognize boredom as an opportunity just to enjoy a moment.  I am available for my family and my friends in a way I never was before.  A million things…the best of which is being on the brink of a completely new family reality and knowing that everything is going to work out just fine.  Of course it’s always just one day at a time, and the cost is factored into all of this with a mandatory regimen of going to meetings, keeping it simple, and working with others.  Early in my sobriety, three years sounded like an eternity.  Now I sit at three years plus some change and the benefits I can recognize from all of the work along the way is what will keep me moving through the next three.

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Filed under Addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, Recovery

The Squander Logs: #002

The Squander Logs:  A series of anonymous interviews/conversations specific to food production, cooking and service. The identity of an interview subject is something I do not plan to intentionally reveal at any point, and the acquisition of an interviewee falls into one of three categories that will also not be revealed but are meant to minimize my influence in the acquisition and promote diversity within the subject pool. Anonymity serves various purposes that include but are not limited to:

1-     To keep the dialogue as honest, spontaneous and unedited as possible.

2-     To avoid some of the complexities inherent to self-promotion, cross-promotion, gratuitous social media competition, shark-jumping, over-saturation and various agendas/coalitions geared towards monetizing every aspect of the food community.

3-     To squander what would otherwise be a perfectly great opportunity to capitalize on my connections within the food community and drive traffic to this blog, just because I thought it sounded like a good way to follow a path through the Kansas City food community that creates itself without the same predictable and well-worn stops along the way.

Category: Type 2

Location: Midwest

Industry: Cooking

Topic: Employees

ME:  How do you think that customers view you vs. how your staff views you?

002:  That’s a good one to start off with.

ME:  Yeah, goes deep.

002:  I know a  lot of people that come here that maybe don’t know who I am, they’ll ask the staff is the owner here and they’ll point over to me over at the expo station and they’ll see me and be surprised.  I think I’m really really lucky to have what I think is probably one of the better staffs in the entire city. Our core group of servers especially are probably four of the strongest servers in the city that all work here…all of them started as part time and now they’re all full time. They kind of were feeling it out, and they make a lot of money here and people love them.

ME:  As far as popularity goes with restaurants in general, do you think that a popular chef is better off or worse off when it comes to finding solid help?

002:  I think that really solid help is just difficult to find in this city regardless.  Speaking from my own personal experience, getting really interested in food at the time when I did, your only option at that time was to go work at the one or two really good restaurants at the time or to move away to go work at a “real restaurant”.  So here, you get a lot of really good people that come from places that they don’t have good experience. They’re nice people, they’re trustworthy, they want to work hard, but they just don’t know the difference between working at, like, a shitty bar and grill and working at a place that’s trying to be a good restaurant.

ME:  That brings up a good question, what kind of balance do you look for between experience and passion?  Where can somebody with experience fuck you up, or someone with too much passion end up doing the same thing?

002:  I think that when you run a place that’s really busy or there’s some hype, there’s not as much interest in having a project, whether it’s an intern or really young guy or girl that just wants to get some experience by being in the kitchen..  I’m not really interested in n that.  I know some of my chef friends like to have some of those people around.  I really don’t have time for that shit.

ME:  When I go out, nine if not ten times out of ten it’s from word of mouth.  I’m a word of mouth diner. Are you a word of mouth employer?

002:  We haven’t had very much kitchen turnover at all. Had to fire a couple of guys early on, but a lot of people have been here since the beginning.  I’ve been really, really lucky. The number one frustration is dealing with a different level of passion depending on the type of cook.  A lot of people cook for a paycheck rather than a craft or the love of cooking or love of food, and a really good way to tell that is by bringing in stacks and stacks of cookbooks and finding out which one of them takes them home and even looks at them.

ME:  When it comes to your cooks…their input on a menu, ad-libbing, collaboration, where are you with all of that?

002:  A lot of people come in and are cooking a different type of food they just don’t have any experience with, it can be really new to people.  Food they’ve never cooked or even eaten, different sauces, ethnic identities, so there’s not a lot of collaboration right now but it’s definitely something that I’m open to and would like to see.

ME:  With your experience in other cities, do you have any lessons from the past from other kitchens where now you’re waiting for the shoe to drop….what are you guarding against and what habits are you trying to instill?

002:  Really good questions.  You don’t really need to see their FLAIR; I just want them to do what I need them to do all the time. What I tell them to do on slow nights is to still try to do everything as fast and as good as possible every single time, because then it creates a sense memory. You’ll never do it slower; you’ll never do it dirtier, because you always know how to do it like that. And that’s something that’s really hard for some cooks, be it laziness or being lackadaisical, you want them to always make it nice and that’s something that’s hard to do with the volume of food we do…. I never anticipated having tumbleweeds blowing through the restaurant, but I also didn’t think we’d do this number of covers on a Saturday night. Sure, it’s not all complicated stuff going out but it’s another plate that someone is going to eat.

ME:  It’s still one more thing for people to pick apart!

002:   Absolutely, absolutely.

ME:  I know a few cooks and servers, and this is probably just my own imagined reality based on the teevee, but there’s that front and back of the house rivalry….as far as keeping the peace is that just myth or is it something that can really become an issue?

002:  To me, that front vs. the back is a thing of the past. I’ve hated some servers before. Hard. But that’s something that for me is in the past. Especially as an owner, now these are people that whether you want it or not basically become your family. You see them all the time.

I’ll give you two examples that just happened….I told everyone in a staff meeting that this will never be a place that you get bullied by the customers, this will never be a place where the customer is always right, and this will never be a place where you have tire marks on the backs of your shirts.  I will go to bat for all of you every single time if I think you’re right and you’re doing what’s right for the business.  The other night a guy came in and was pretty drunk when he got here; got a little drunker while he was here. He was being a real dick to our hostess who does a great job. We got word of it and went over and told him “this isn’t a place where you get to do that and your night is done here”.  He wanted to continue the conversation about it, so we all went outside and I stepped in when I thought I needed to step in and told him “these are people I’ve been working with on a daily basis, and if three of them tell me the same thing I’m going to go ahead and take their word over your drunken word since I’ve only known you for three minutes.  So you need to go, and we can call people if you want to make this a bigger issue, but right now you’re just fucking out of here and you need to be out of here”.  So of course he did the whole “well we’re never fucking coming back here”….well, fantastic, you’re a dick and I don’t fucking want you to!

Then yesterday a guy came in and just wants to change the whole menu because he’s so smart and knows so much about the food. “Just do a grilled skirt steak or something”…well, we don’t have that.  Just shit like that, giving the server a hard time, and so he’s like “why don’t you just send the chef out?”  And she says okay, and comes back, and I go over there and I’m like “I’ve been beckoned by someone! Who beckoned me?”

ME:  Me personally, I just don’t know where THAT comes from…..just a control tactic, dick measuring?  It’s just so foreign to me to treat people like that.

002:  And what you do is you totally spin it on them… you came through my doors, you’re in my house right now. You don’t get to dirty up my house.

So he goes into how his kids need a special kids menu, what can they order?  They can order anything on the menu, they’re not restricted. Or we could make them a grilled cheese or something, and he goes “well my daughter is kind of allergic to cheese”.  I started laughing and asked “she’s KIND of allergic?”…”well no, she’s actually allergic to cheese”.  What the fuck?  So, she can have some chips and I’ll give her a pile of chicken or whatever she can eat.  But we don’t have chicken tenders and mac n’ cheese.

ME:  That’s hilarious.  I don’t have a bad meal in this town. I know who to ask, where to go, and when you don’t assert yourself, you treat people normally and you tip well, you’re golden.  Just staying off the radar not asking for special shit, tipping well and repeat business, I mean, isn’t that the formula. That’s funny, my initial question for you before I tried to make it fancy comparing customer and employee views of you was, what makes a good customer?

002:  I think it’s just someone who is open to the experience. I mean, this is really, really fucking hard to do.  People have zero idea how much fucking money it costs to build out a place. You can walk into any turnkey restaurant on 39th and you could go to Thomas and four months later it could be Randy’s and they could do nothing to change it and it STILL costs money…it still takes time to get a new liquor license and to build an identity.  When you’re building a place from the ground up and every single thing is something you’ve chosen, it’s an insane amount of energy and time and care and money and effort, and it takes a lot of people to make that happen.

ME:  When I did the first one of these it was about foodies.  In your opinion, how responsible is a customer for having feelings about ANY of that?  Is respect enough?  Is it an asshole who says “it’s not my fucking deal, I’m here to have a meal, your walls look nice, what do you want me to do?”

002:  The people who do this and do this really well, you have to have the balls to say this is what I like, this is the type of food I like, the drinks I like and I want you to come in and like it.  I’m not someone who thinks food is ART, there are definitely creative and passionate elements to it, but its food, you eat it and shit it out. But there’s a part of it where you zip yourself open and put your guts out there and hope people like it. That’s why it’s insanely offensive to have someone come in and just flippantly say “this sucks” or “I don’t like it”…do you have any idea how hard this is?

ME:  If you don’t like something you can articulate it….well I didn’t like it because you over-roasted the shit out of this, or this sauce has too much of something…

002:  And that’s totally valid. We do so many covers, to say one thing came out and it was too salty….

ME:  Kansas City is really scene based as far as a lot of this goes, and I mean, how much flack do you think you catch from the foodie elite over your clientele?

002:  That’s really funny because you can be tagged as a place to be seen, or for soccer moms, or hipsters or the elite, old people….you know what? Those are the fucking people who go out to eat!   If I opened a place only trying to reach a demographic like the people who eat at The River Club, I’d be fucked.  I have a lot of friends who cook or are bartenders or servers, and I like to not only draw from that pool of people, but we’re lucky because for whatever reason we have people from Prairie Village and Leawood and Mission Hills who LOVE this place.

ME:  And you have to know the next “THING” is going to come along, and what’s going to sustain you is the food.  One thing, you kind of touched on it, where is that point between creating an INSPIRED dish and you just want to fucking crank out a reproducible product every single time.

002:  That’s a balance I don’t even think we’ve found yet.  Before you’re doing anything, you’re trying to see what your cooks can produce on a large scale over and over and over and have it be good every time.  I can put some super fancy shit on the menu, and they can fuck it up every time and it costs me money and people don’t like it and that becomes our identity.  What I like to do is make things I like to eat. Things I would want to go out and have.  Our newer menus will probably be a little smaller, a little weirder, pushing the boundary a little bit.

ME:  How do you depend on your staff for your work life balance?

002:  There are a lot of parts to that question. Part of it is you have a really brief conversation with people you have in authority, in management positions and tell them that if I don’t feel comfortable leaving here knowing that things are going to be okay, then I will fire you.  If I can’t be gone, have to be here all the time, what the fuck do I need you here for?  I’ve said this to people before, that I don’t expect you to care as much as I do, it’s unrealistic because their ass and their money isn’t on the line. If the place goes out of business they can go and get another job and I’m fucked.  At the same time, being someone who is funny or fun to work with or for, that inspires a general notch above other places…

ME:  People want to have your back.

002:  They do, they do.  And going to bat for people…I told the hostess when the guy was being a dick to her, nobody EVER gets to treat you like that here. That never happens. They’ll be out on the street.  We have your back. Those little instances instill so much care and more like family.

ME:  As someone who has done a lot of people management…people, customers, I just wrote down this phrase “blood in the water”.  In order to support that work/life balance you’re going to have to cut some heads from time to time in-house, but it sounds like that can be applied to asshole customers too.

002:  Absolutely.

ME:  If you string somebody up and gut them in front of the staff, toss them out, there’s your credibility in spades.

002:  One night we just had one of those really, really rough services where things were just going bad on every level.  I took the cooks outside and sat them down and started talking to them about what this place meant to me, and asking them what they thought it cost to open a place that looks and feels like this….ten grand? Forty? Four hundred?  I told them, in order to get THAT money back before anybody starts MAKING money, you have to produce and it has to be really good.  I’m an emotional person, and I just sat there and cried…either showed them care or weakness or strength or however you want to view it, and basically said this place really fucking matters and I need you to care about it. And if you don’t go work at fucking Recordbar or fucking Gilhouley’s and sling fucking drinks. Whatever you want to fucking do, but don’t ruin THIS.

ME:  Cut my teeth at Gilhouley’s.  Mid 90’s, good times, lots of FBI surveillance going on at the time.

002:  I don’t know if I’m allowed to go back there after a night I had.

ME:  I always have to ask one gossipy thing.  When it comes to lessons you’ve learned, have you learned any of them from the mistakes other chefs have made in this town?  Any common threads?

002:  The few owners that I know…all of the people I know who run kitchens tend to put out.  If I have a mini-feud with someone, instead of trying to attack their business, I just don’t go there or talk about it and try to run my business really, really well to make it annoying for them.

ME:  No matter who you hate or whatnot, it seems like in this town you just let people hang themselves instead of going around naming names. The dumbest thing you could do is have a vendetta and shop it all around town.

002:  I see how some people act, and you have got to be really, really, really talented and amazing to overcome a bad attitude.  I’m all for confidence and I’m all for feeling really good about where you’re at, but at the same time if you hate everybody and everybody is a dick you WILL go out of business.

ME:  If everyone is an asshole, chances are you are the problem.

002:  Yeah.

ME:  Talent can only make up for so much asshole behavior.  To some degree you probably end up establishing a persona, an image, over time, and you can throw a bit of the FUCK YOU out there….but you’ve earned it and you know how to do that dance.  Too many people lack the social skills to know where that balance is.

002:  The single best thing I’ve done is maintaining and developing collaborations with people that I like, who have done cool stuff, they’ve helped my identity as a person and as a business.  Having our crew of people…I don’t have to spend time and energy talking shit about people because I have too much stuff on my plate where I’m developing things with people I like and respect. I don’t have time for that shit.

ME:  I always get to this phase and call it the random shit part of the interview; it’s a little less cerebral.  So, say some bad things about Yelp.

002:  You know, as a person who cares about what you do and what your business is, you want to read that shit. You want to read what people are saying. So rarely is it a sounding board for people who are educated or have any idea about running this type of business.  You kind of go through phases with Yelp or Urbanspoon where it’s like, when you first open, you just want to see what everyone is saying. Maybe they love it, or they hate it, and I get pissed. But now I’ve taken to…I don’t look at it at all or read it at all.  Part of that comes from, you’ll see two reviews that are one star, they hated absolutely everything about it, it starts to fuck with your head a bit…

ME:  And then if they just misspell shit…..

002:  Then immediately what I do is click on twenty other things they’ve reviewed and it’s all one star…..from a dog grooming place, to fucking Blockbuster, to Chili’s, and everything is horrible, everything sucks.

Longman and Eagle in Chicago totally killed it by printing their Yelp reviews on coasters where people are like “everything about it sucked”  and they just take all of the power away from you.

ME:  That is awesome!

002:  They’re showing people, here is one way to show everyone how stupid you are.

ME:  I understand in a digital age the need for it.  If I want to see a map, hours of operation, a picture of a fucking menu, that’s pretty much what I use it for. And you can read between the lines with the reviews and get something from them, but what I view it as becoming is kind of like a corrupt union….”if we get enough of us Yelpers together we can get them to do whatever the fuck we want them to DO!”.

002:  There was an article a while back, I can’t be certain if it was San Francisco or Portland, but basically that’s what they did. A group of about thirty or forty people that Yelped a lot went to businesses and told them you need to discount our meals or we’re going to try and ruin your businesses by Yelping about you.

ME:  Holy shit.

002:  They should have a situation where you can write a one star review and trash a place, but the next day you have to go and introduce yourself to the owner and see what happens.

ME:  From what I know, there’s generally going to be a difference in the treatment of a well-known restaurant critic when they come in your place, but when you come in as a nobody and depend on power in numbers to bully, that’s just insane.

002:  It’s just a site that I don’t pay attention to at all.  I try to say to all of my friends, I’m an open, open, open book that if somebody comes in here and something isn’t good, whether it’s food or service or whatever the fuck it is, I hope my friends like me enough and care about my business enough to tell me something just didn’t hit it.  I’m open like that.  I don’t have an ego to where I’m like, NOPE! Everything is perfect!  I’m sure you just didn’t like how perfect it was.

ME:  If a little thing is off with a dish or something, and it’s a busy night and it’s just a matter of temperature, then that stuff isn’t worth mentioning. But if I see something that is symptomatic….if I’m in a few times and start to see a common thread, then I’ll say something. Honestly, I’m just pretty easy to please.

002:  A friend of mine came in and later they told me about an issue with one of my servers when they were taking their order.  I asked the person, “Did you do that? Do you know that you’re doing that? Because if so you won’t be working here”.

ME:  When you go out of your way to accommodate dietary restrictions, NOT death from peanuts or something, but more like I MIGHT be allergic to cheese….how much of that is really out of concern and how much is you know you could fuck up your image by being the I’M OUT TO POISON MOTHERFUCKERS guy?

002:  Gluten allergies are easy enough to accommodate, and that’s popular these days, but so much of the time I think people are lying…I’m allergic to cilantro? Just say you don’t like it. I have zero problem if you just don’t like it. I don’t like raw mushrooms, I won’t order them.  As cooks then you start to play this game….you’re allergic to onions?  So you can’t have anything with stock in it? Bullshit!  If someone says they are really allergic to peanuts, I eat a lot of peanuts and we have them in the restaurant, so I say that if you are deathly allergic I probably wouldn’t eat here at all.  I don’t want to kill you.  You just play the game I guess.

ME:  As things stand in KC right now, what is a dish to you that needs to be eaten often?  Off the top of your head, what is a crazy good bite of food to eat right now?

002:  People are very, very surprised where I like to go…

ME:  Are you kidding me? Dude,  (TOP CHEF IN KC’S NAME REDACTED) fucking loves Olive Garden.

002:  To me personally, and you can fuck off if you don’t like it, but one of my favorite meals in town is to go to Jack Stack in the Freighthouse and I have consistently the best meal and the best service every single time.  Grilled shrimp appetizer, Caesar Salad, split the big sampler platter, and then have that huge fucking chocolate dessert.  It’s awesome every time. I love it.

ME:  Love their lamb ribs, onion rings.  I love goddamn Red Lobster.

002:  Yeah, those cheddar bay biscuits.  I went to Houston’s the other night…

ME:  Chicken fingers at Houston’s!

002:  We had a really, really, really good meal.

ME:  I don’t know if they still have it, it’s been on and off the menu over the years, but they do a Hawaiian steak, just a marinated ribeye that is just the shit….  Anyway, is there a piece of produce that you wish was in season 365 days per year?

002:  I think as a cook it’s almost like there’s a double edged sword. If it was available all the time then you don’t appreciate it as much. I think the first time you see really, really good tomatoes; it’s so good to work with fresh and good tomatoes. But at the same time, if they were awesome year around it would be just like Driscoll strawberries.

ME:  Any food, foodie or chef trends right now that you’re done with?

002:  Seasonal. Seasonal American food has been boring for a long time.  I remember at one point last year going online and printing off menus.  I took off the fonts, the logos and just printed the menus and seven out of nine had a beet risotto.  It’s hard enough to get people to come back over and over and over to your restaurant, but especially if you’re all serving the same thing.

ME:  When something becomes the tuna tartare of its day.

002:  I just want to try and have something that nobody else does.  Seasonal American can become so boring.

ME:  Is seasonal and American something that really needs to be advertised?

002:  No, you’re right, it doesn’t. I think people are still just holding onto that, housewives..”Are you SEASONAL?”.

ME:  Chefs I know, seasonal is kind of a given.  Is it going to be December and that night’s special is heirloom gazpacho?  Kind of like organic…if you have to keep saying organic to me I’m going to start questioning it. Goes back to the onion allergy….you can’t have stock?  I start to get legalistic.

002:  It’s a good point that you bring up. What if it IS winter and I really want to serve tomato soup and a grilled cheese?  I don’t want to NOT be able to do it because my customers would say it’s not seasonal.  I think we’ve come full circle to where we’re back to something like fusion…it’s funny to say that, but a guy who really sticks out in my head is David Chang.  He wants to make that kind of food with whatever ingredients he wants, and from Grant Achatz to Adria, you start getting into that…well seasonal is seasonal and local is local but what if the seasonal local peaches aren’t NEARLY as good as the ones you can get from Georgia or wherever?  If you are truly wanting to give THE best and offer the best you’ll use the best product no matter where you can get it from.   If you’re seasonal and you’re local, you basically say to your customers that for two months of the year I want to give you the best thing I can give you. For the rest of the year I don’t really care.  I just have to get what I can get.

ME:  I just have to give you one out of left field to end with because I have to. This cracked me up thinking about it…..celebrity chefs.  Think of that show Jackass, you know how they spring shit on people?

002:  Yeah, kick someone in the nuts or something.

ME:  If you could get a goddamn celebrity chef of your choice who could get surprise teabagged…who would it be?

002:  Probably Paula Deen!

ME:  Ohhh, goddammit! That’s exactly… I thought about Paula Deen the whole time!

002:  Yeah, Paula Deen.  I watched that video over and over where they’re doing an event and they’re tossing turkeys into the back of a semi and she turns her head for a split second to wave at the camera and takes a ham to the face.

ME:  It’s so hilarious that you say Paula Deen because I was thinking of this whole scenario if you said Paula Deen because I think it would backfire….because that twisted old broad…

002:  Yeah, she’d get up  on it.

ME:   “Look at those BALLS!”  “Have you seen those BALLS?!?!”, but spelled B-A-W-L-S…

002:  BAWLS!

ME:  Have you seen BAWLS like that!  Oh my GAWD, y’all!  Get me some black ones and some white ones and everythin’ else up in here!

002:  I think now knowing so many different people in my life who have been on reality TV shows….and I’ve met Tyler Florence and different people, and in real life they’re all really, really fucking cool.  You know, you have to be a character when you’re on TV, they turn you into something, they edit, make you look like a douchebag.  Guy Fieri should be one of the coolest guys in the world. He gets to do whatever he wants!  Why would he be a dick and why would you hate him?  I see Michael Symon, the chef from Cleveland, doing commercials.  You could put anybody in a room, any of the KC chefs we know,  and say that hey we’re doing a commercial for Lay’s potato chips and the first person to raise their hand gets four million dollars.  I’d raise my hand fast as fuck!  Until you’re presented with that opportunity or until you know what that situation is like, fuck off if you’re going to judge somebody.  Do you know how many chefs work for 30 to 38 thousand dollars for years and years and years…and you’re telling me that if you get a little popularity if they offer you a huge check that basically says your kids and your kids’ kids are going to be okay or don’t have to pay for college, or you can pay off your house…I would do that in a millisecond.

ME:  It’s that whole Rachael Ray billionaire syndrome.  Oh, back to the Paula Deen thing and playing a character…who do you think thought it was a good idea to have both of her sons play characters from that “To Catch a Predator” show?  At what point did someone say, hey, let’s get a couple of dudes who really seem like child molesters?  Have you seen Alton Brown in those weird grape commercials…

002:  Yeah, Welch’s. God!

ME:  Me and my wife are sitting there saying he’s starting to look like a toucher.

002:  And I’ve actually heard he’s a total dick.

ME:  Kind of pretentious, like when you see him on that stupid Food Network Star show, seems like a huge douche.

002:  He probably is.

ME:  But you’re right, Guy Fieri should be the coolest sonofabitch in the world though, because to me that is living the dream.

002:  We were watching No Reservations last night or the night before, and Anthony Bourdain should be the coolest guy ever. He should be, and I think he’s at least pretty cool or tries to be.

ME:  He’s got those BAWLS!

002:  Got those BAWLS!  Paula Deen!

 

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