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.