So we all know how this works, I have fun reliving some gratuitous crap that is loosely related to the real subject of the post, and once I’m feeling fully entertained I get around to doling out information on a meal or meals that just leaves you wishing I was the type of dick who won’t let anyone at the table take a bite until I get a picture….”Oh, oh, hold up that butter, I didn’t get a shot of all the butters…WHO TOOK A BITE FROM THE COMPOUND BUTTER!?!?!…Oh man, now I’m going to have to come back here again to get a shot of that BUTTER! I can’t post ANY of this until I can account for all the buuuttterrrrrs…..if I were my father I’d beat the shit out of ALL OF YOU!”. Trust me, the schtick is starting to bug me too…it was cool the first half dozen times, now I’m just sounding like any other formulaic food blogger with the possible exception being my implied goal of consistently low readership. I’m not out to be edgy or underground, this is the way I actually talk and I genuinely enjoy talking about food related topics. At the same time I have to include stuff that amuses me enough to stay excited about writing anything, and how all of THAT peripheral bullshit fits into the formula is this- I would honestly feel bad if at some point some chef or owner stumbled upon one of my reviews on the interwebs and forwarded or reposted it without first noticing a phrase like “In my confused brain, the juxtaposition of the icy sorbet and the piping hot broth forced me to imagine what it would be like to be a young lady subjected to dueling Jekyll and Hyde ObGyn’s….COLD speculum-WARM speculum-COLD speculum-WARM speculum…..”. All across Johnson County, scores of Yelpers who were trying to decide between eating at Mestizo and jamming an emery board into their urethra would see THIS jumble of shit and be like…”Hey HON, is it good or bad when the review mentions vagina tools? I’m so confused now.” So yeah, I just blow any chance of an actual self-respecting human in the industry counting this shit as “Media” right up front…it entertains me and at the same time it is polarizing enough to let people decide if MY speculum is too hot, too cold or juuuusst right.
I went to some shows at the Outhouse when I was a kid, but it probably wasn’t until around 1991 that I started visiting Lawrence with any regularity….trips to Yello Sub, first run indie flicks like Slacker at Liberty Hall, Love Garden Records…typical fare. One of the most memorable trips that pretty much set the tone for the next several years happened when I was still an associate pastor in KCK. I was with our senior pastor officiating a funeral somewhere down near LaCygne. It was a Friday and I was supposed to be all the way out in Lawrence later that afternoon because a bunch of us were going to see Throwing Muses at The Bottleneck. Normally, it would be a no-brainer even though we were an hour from home….funerals generally went pretty quickly. This one got a little complicated when it was discovered that the grave had been dug in the wrong spot, so we had to wrangle the funeral director to confirm the correct plot and then wrangle the guy who ran the backhoe. This was out in the country in a little country cemetery, the lady who had passed away was an older member in our church and in addition to being the clergy I had to be a pallbearer because there weren’t enough able bodied men to carry the casket. That fact made me feel bad. What made me feel worse was that I’d done enough funerals to learn about caskets, and these folks had to go with the cheapest possible casket…the silver-greyish felt covered model. And what made me feel even worse than THAT was when we had to set that cheap casket down on the ground and leave it there in the open while we went to sort things out. So long/depressing story short, they located the right plot and we all stood around as the thunderously loud backhoe ripped up the ground to make room for a little old lady in a cheap casket.
And it is against that backdrop that I DID make it to Lawrence in time for Throwing Muses. It was a good show, it was dollar well drink night, and I think I drank about twenty five or thirty rot gut vodka tonics before I had to run out to the car and throw up in the parking lot for the last half hour or so of the show. That night began a pretty solid tradition of getting so drunk that upon arrival at home I went ahead and slept in the car. For many years, when the question “Where in the hell is Jerry?” was asked the next morning, the reply was often “Did you check the car?”. Correct answer eight times out of ten. You are indeed reading this correctly- pastor by day, party animal by night. That trend lasted for almost a couple of years, at which time I moved to Minneapolis to attend Bible College…then the REALLY crazy shit began….
Since I’m on the subject of getting wasted in Lawrence, I simply MUST bring up what is quite possibly the greatest establishment in the history of lawless redneck counties situated next to a college town….Little Reno’s Paradise Saloon. Way, WAY too many crazy stories about that place to fit into a food review that takes place fifteen or twenty years later, but I will say…..as a man who ran an adult bookstore for several years and had the misfortune of knowing a LOT of strippers, the Paradise Saloon was the best of the best. Three dollar drinks, five dollar lap dances, tons of girls, no laws of any kind, and a psychotic bouncer named Meatloaf who loved nothing more than taking misbehaving frat boys out into the parking lot and braining them with his mag-light. Seriously, it got bad enough that even the Reno sheriff finally said cut it out. I burned out on strip clubs a very long time ago. They are pretty sad places. But THAT establishment was beautiful.
Of course this is where I could construct a bridge with the cute local girls stripping their way through college on THAT side, attractive young guys and gals hauling food to older men with mag-light imprints on their forehead on THIS side….too much work. Back then it was getting our Yello Sub delivery driver buddy stoned for free food, and truckloads of cheap pizza. Yello Sub remained a constant through the years, and I still love Planet Sub, but at some point life progressed to a point where I could put Lidia’s into the rotation (several lost years prior to the Lidia’s phase, and what a great story that will make once I know more about statutes of limitations), and my regular server there turned me onto Pachamama’s…..for whatever reason, that habit did not survive the move from their original location. And my dining habits took quite a hit during my last relationship….after attaching myself to a mortgage and moving her in, I was quickly informed that it is the man’s responsibility to be the provider….downhill quickly, etc. etc., flash forward, sobriety, marriage, gravy train with biscuit wheels, yada yada and 715 became the place to check out.
So finally, here we are. Long story short, after three visits, 715 is an official member of “the rotation”. It only took 2 visits to make it into the coveted spot, the third trip on Saturday night was just an excuse to go and try some more food. Even though comparing 715 and The Rieger would be like comparing apples and POV porn, henceforth we’ll refer to it as our “Rieger West”. The Rieger is like an extended family to us at this point, but considering the mutual love the respective chefs and staff all share, and the extreme high quality of food and service at both restaurants, we’re happy to have them ALL onboard.
715 is a place that is serious enough about sourcing great products to transcend what is quickly becoming an overused cliché….”farm to table”….it’s the new organic. The menu is always changing, some days hurt worse than others when I see a daily special that reminds me I’m too lazy to drive to Lawrence on a random Wednesday. Chef Michael Beard and his crew do food correctly….solid products are given the respect they deserve by dedicating the time it takes to maximize flavor. You don’t have to go fucking around with food very much when you start with that solid of a baseline. So first and foremost we have the time and thought that goes into making dishes work on all levels…major “rotation” material. While I don’t generally count it as a make or break component, the restaurant itself is a great space and that sure as hell does not hurt. Sure, a nice restaurant in Lawrence is a pretty big douche magnet…former frat jocks who think they’re funny holding a server hostage with a very bad and overused “We have a complaint!” joke, and the cartoonishly thin and stiff turquoise jewelry wearing Portlandia extras who…do…not….stop it with the “Unless you’re in academia it’s hard to understand blah blah blah…..true, oh very true as far as a career in academia…..leave it to academia!….ACADEMIA!!!”. But hey, I’m thankful for annoying fuckers because they help me narrow down the list of people I want as friends.
Almost as important as the food, an element that is absolutely, 100% mandatory for any restaurant I’d consider as a regular destination….the pride and shared sense of ownership in the front of the house. We’ve had consistently great service, but if you know me I’m a very, very loyal sonofabitch when I find “my server”…if they are working, I’ll wait for a table in their section if I have to. And I’m not looking to have my ass kissed, or the hottest hottie, or anything like that…I just want someone who is personable, knows the food, loves the food, is fun to get to know, no cheap waiter tricks, and has enough actual opinions to help guide my decisions as I piece together the best possible meal. That type of service is critical, I would never, ever be a regular anywhere I could not find it (Mostly talking about mid and upper tier dining…they could throw shit at my head at places like Vietnam Café and I’d still go. Thankfully they do not…).
What I lack in actual writing skill I more than make up for in word count. Taking the time to read all of THIS is an impressive feat. But that shit aside, here is the laundry list of food to the best of my recollection….Sunday Brunch, then apps from 2 visits, entrees and desserts in the same manner….
Beverages- I can’t say enough about how much I love tasty non-alcoholic options…715’s Lavender Vanilla Cream Soda is almost like a dessert, but it is damn fine. And while I love the “burn my face off” effect a big glass of very lightly diluted Ginger Green Tea Soda at the Rieger has more than anything, the lighter version of Ginger Soda with bits of pulp in it at 715 is a winner too. My wife has tried a couple of the cocktails and really liked them, but my boring ass cannot speak to their deliciousness. I don’t drink, but if I still did, none of those cocktails are straight bourbon, so what the fuck good are they?
Smoked Trout Bruschetta- got this during our first visit, Sunday brunch. Great flakey, house smoked fish with all of the nice little accompaniments.
Pastrami Hash- another brunch dish, pretty hearty, house cured, all that jazz. The first good example of the price being misleading…wasn’t counting on a trucker portion for the money. Big score.
Fried Rabbit and Waffles- I obviously had to get this for my main at brunch….I mean, it’s fried rabbit and waffles. Front and back quarters breaded and fried up pretty perfectly, and another massive meat missile. Seriously, for anyone who eats here and does the whole “I expected to get more food for the money”….you need some serious self-examination. Your rotted soul is leaving an empty space where you cram food.
Arancini- arborio rice, stracchino cheese and ragu, served with marinara and hot calabrian chile oil- this is where stuff really started to get interesting…during our first Saturday night visit. Brunch was good enough to get us back there, but here is where the real show began. This version of arancini was somewhere between baseball and softball sized, which is no small feat since you need to get it hot all the way through to get a good melt on the cheese without burning the crispy breaded exterior. I defy you to find anything wrong with deep fried balls of rice, cheese and meat sauce. The Calabrian chile oil is really something else….I sat there for most of the evening thinking of different applications for it. Just the right amount of heat and a ton of flavor. I will be putting in an order online at Taylor’s Market soon for an array of Calabrian chile goods.
Red Wattle ‘Surryano’- 2 year dry aged hoof-on pork leg- You order this by the ounce, and on the advice of our server we only got one ounce to share which ended up being the perfect amount. My wife goes “oh man, country ham”….she pretty much nailed it. It is damn good, a lot of flavor and I actually much prefer the texture over far more expensive imported hammy products like Prosciutto.
Lamb Chips w/lemon, parsley and parm- Lamb balls…no mystery here, the awesome photo on 715’s Facebook page put this dish on my radar and was part of the reason we headed out there. Sliced, breaded, fried….great texture, mild, went very well with the chile oil left over from the arancini. Definintely needs more sharpness of some kind…a few capers in with the lemon and parsley maybe.
Soppresata, Pate, Mortadella Sampler- One thing I need to follow up on here is the Soppressata, I usually think of it as just salami, on the menu it lists it as headcheese, the chunky fattiness definitely says headcheese but it’s sliced thin as hell like salami…just a Basilicata vs. Toscana thing here and I’ve somehow never sampled the latter? Who gives a shit, the flavor and texture is just dynamite. This little plate really did end up being one of the best representations of housemade charcuterie I’ve eaten in the KC area. The flavor and texture of the mortadella was outstanding as well, and the depth of flavor with some spicy sweetness in the pate made it stand way, way out from others I’ve eaten. Across the board, solid as hell. To be honest, I’d prefer to just eat the housemade stuff vs. the La Quercia products listed along with them. La Quercia is obviously fucking phenomenal, but I’m more about the rustic flavor profiles.
Fried Livers- Obscene and total false advertising. You can’t go and list these fucking things as “fried chicken livers” and then only charge about eight bucks without giving motherfuckers some warning. It’s like back in the day at Sanderson’s when they’d wheel out the world’s largest tenderloin for unsuspecting newbies. Crazy shit. I will eat any chicken liver any time…from gross and overcooked specimens under the lamp at a prepared foods counter to Go Chicken Go, and everything in between. For the sake of brevity- huge and batter fried, best livers ever, enough for 4 people. If I had to make one improvement it would be to maybe throw in some lemon slices or some kind of vinegar based something…..no complaints though, the Calabrian chile oil aioli was fiiine.
Fegalo- Tuscan liver sausage with braised sweet onions, golden raisins and white balsamic- That was one tasty burger patty. A juicy patty of caulfat wrapped goodness. Really, really rich, minerally, fatty, crisp exterior, heavy dark spices, sweetness, sharp vinegar…ultimate, ultimate dish for a thirty degrees below zero day. Assuming we ever see another one of those. JINX!
Rabbit Ravioli- Rare Hare Barns rabbit confit over homemade parsnip and goat cheese puree ravioli- Very solid example of well made ravioli…the pasta was thin enough and the amount of filling was perfect in accentuating both components. The shredded rabbit meat on top was an added bonus. I really need to try more pasta dishes in the future…so far so good there.
Tilefish- seared and served with farro salad, grilled radicchio, watercress and red wine vinegar- You’ve got your fatty liver sausage over there, your light grouper-y seared and roasted filet on this side. And honestly, the fish dish was strong enough to contend with everything else, the farro, veg and vinegar combo was a very welcome change of pace and stood out. Believe it or not, I’m not ALWAYS in the mood for an overload of animal fat, so it is important that the fish options be worthy of a visit all by their lonesome.
Pork Confit and Spaetzle- seared pork belly with chive spaetzle, duck fat seared apples, watercress, fennel and walnuts- I know my 3,000 word reviews are punishing, BUT with this dish we have to go back to last month’s “gay jock hate crime of love” topic. This pork was right at that line, and I have to find out more about the order of preparatory events here….I’ve eaten many times my weight in pork belly, I do a passable version of a Thomas Keller recipe at home, but this rendition took all of the best things about the myriad examples I’ve tried and managed to blend them all into one little package. Salty cure, warm and melty fat, meaty texture, crisp exterior. I don’t know if it’s the exact same thing that goes into the pork belly salad, I haven’t tried that yet, but I will say…this is something you have to try. I am never wrong about pork.
Soppressata Pizza- This is what gets the most talk from the 715 fans I’ve spoken with, and it is damn good. You get that headcheese melted down into a pizza and you are on the road to success. Great crust, right ratio of meat/sauce/cheese, seasoned just right, good crispiness giving way to that micro-layer of tongue cauterizing heat. AND it travels well. We’ll try each of them before all is said and done.
7-Layer Honey Cake- My wife is the dessert fan, and she went crazy for this. I love a good dessert, this one was delicious, but I what I loved and respected most was the construction…very impressive….now that I can do a decent macaron I want to learn how to do this multi-layered rustic entreme thingy.
Sticky Date Cake- Oh, you have to try this and that is no bullshit. This is the type of thing that prompts me to always at least TRY dessert at a new place….for such a small and unassuming little dish it’s a freakin’ monster. Date cake, toffee sauce, ice cream, get it inside you. It’s a world beater.
Lastly, pricewise it’s the kind of place where you can go any direction. We went full-bore with our first dinner there and still barely hit our benchmark $100 tab, which is usually exactly what we spend at Justus, The Rieger, Lidia’s, etc. Last Saturday we dropped that by ¼ and STILL had way more food than we could ever finish….so honestly, a couple of apps, a shared entrée and a dessert would probably be the perfect amount of food and would make regular “non-date night” visits very doable. I love the constant Facebook updates that keep me informed of specials, because I am exactly the type of crackhead to make the drive from Parkville on a whim.
SOOO….after thousands of words about one goddamn place, I will shut up after saying- I realize sometimes that my glowing comments make me sound like a Johnson County housewife who never gets to see daylight, but I only usually talk about the places I REALLY like. So I hope the fact that I know I will never make money on any of this, and the fact that I can (for the most part) eat wherever I want lends some weight to my enthusiasm. You find a good local place with a solid philosophy, putting out thoughtful food with an emotionally invested team, and you make sure the people on your short list of friends knows to get the fuck over there asap. I’m not a food critic, I don’t want to potentially mess with anyone’s livelihood just so I can bitch about bad soup, and I’m too lazy to put myself on a schedule with all of this. This time it’s 715, next time it will be my first experience learning how to make Povitica from a lifelong master, then I’m sure I’ll have some really good fundamentalist-related shit as soon as I’m sure it won’t cause collateral damage, etc. etc.
Now it’s back to my email campaign to get TLC to change the name of “Toddlers and Tiaras” to “WOW! Your Six Year Old is a WHORE!”…..