Category Archives: Crossroads Social Club

715- Lawrence, Kansas…

                                                                                                                                                                    

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.

So anyway……

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.

Aranciniarborio 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.

FegaloTuscan 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 RavioliRare 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.

Tilefishseared 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 Spaetzleseared 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!”…..

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Filed under 715 Restaurant, Charcuterie, Crossroads Art District, Crossroads Social Club, culture, eGullet, Farm to Table, Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, Food Reviews, Home Cooking, homemade, Kansas City, Kansas City Food Scene, Lawrence Kansas, Michael Beard, Paradise Locker Meats

Best Food of 2011…

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 “My son is a homosexual and I love him…..I love my dead gay son!”

 Oh yeah, let’s open this with one of the classics.  It always struck me as strange when Patrick Labyorteaux stripped off his shirt how weirdly fat and muscular he looked at the same time. His core was like a chubby triangle. Great movie, Heathers.  And whenever I think of the most awesome, inspirational bites of food in my life, my mind immediately goes to that awkward funeral….and then to Brokeback Mountain….and then to some Lifetime PSA movie that doesn’t even exist.  This phenomenon is new to me as of this year, after a single bite of food that I will eventually get around to talking about.  But first I must elaborate upon a rating system that I touched on during my trip to DC…..

 2011 was a MONSTER food year, and my rating system is this- If I didn’t like it, unless it was REALLY horrible, you just don’t ever hear me talk about it. I’m not a food critic, I’m not going to bore you with all of the shit that is wrong with a place unless I get poisoned or physically threatened.  If I like it, but I’m not going to rush right back, you may or may not hear me mention it….The Farmhouse here in KC comes to mind as an example. Good food, I’d throw it out there as a recommendation, it’s worth a second and third try at some point, it’s just not going to break into our dinner rotation.  Then there are the restaurants and single dishes that I LOVE….and in the past year you’ve heard me talk about most of those.  I am always trying new places, but I’m a creature of habit.  If I truly love a place, it makes it into “the rotation”….no small feat. Then we go there all the time, and you get totally fucking sick of my Facebook updates from that point forward.

 But THERE IS a personal rating I possess that makes all of the Michelin stars in the world totally superfluous dogshit in comparison…..and THAT rating, which came to me straight from God in the middle of a single bite of food (which I WILL eventually get around to talking about) is….”Gay Jock Hate Crime of Love”.  Or as it will be referred to from this point forward, GJHCOL.  For the uninitiated I am going to break it down for you in a way that will unsettle you like a burp that smells so bad you think you may need to see a doctor.  With that said, I am obviously in no way advocating actual hate crimes if a bite of food sends you over the top.  My brain is just kind of fucked up, and this is how extreme sensory input and my grey matter have to talk to each other if they want to get my attention.

So anyway….in a vision it came to me…..  We are all familiar with those horrible zero budget Oxygen type movies that highlight something that was a relevant issue two years ago.  They always star Meredith Baxter Birney and some twenty five year old actor who is being passed off as the troubled teenage jock or the bulimic princess.  Well, in THIS movie it’s the jock, complete with his awesome letter jacket where he hides his secret smokes a la Greg Brady. But this jock has another, much bigger secret. FLASH FORWARD!  It’s the end of the football season, and the awkward semi-secret newly formed friendship he has developed with a yell leader (even though they’ve been neighbors forever…long story) transforms into an emotional bond that finally reaches its logical conclusion one night when they are in the gym putting some equipment back into the closet (the director had to throw some real softballs out there imagery-wise, Oxygen watchers are pretty goddamn stupid). Long story short, a “hey man…I never told you how much it meant to me when you…taught me how to read” confession turns into a long embrace, which turns into some very consensual kissing, shirts off, no Laboryteaux doughboys though, they are totally ripped, aaaannnnnd….love story turns to TRAGEDY!   With hot tears streaming and snot bubbles the size of grapefruits, the jock suddenly backs away as if struck by lightning.  He begins to emit an “Eeeee…eeeee…EEEEE” noise like that dude who was banging Forrest Gump’s mom, time stands still and the barometric pressure in the immediate vicinity changes so rapidly their ears begin to pop.  In a fit, he rains very vicious yet still ineffective blows down upon the object of his affection…the camera panning away as his conflicted, soul-cauterizing wails continue to boom throughout the halls. Then we fade in to Meredith Baxter Birney, quietly crying as she sits on his bed, wondering aloud what she could have done to help her son who now sits in the county jail….YEAH, maybe a little more understanding from YOUR sorry ass when you forced him to play football after finding him rifling through your makeup drawer and this would aalllll be different….not every child is as perfect as your precious Alex Keaton, whore.

Lots of restaurants, lots of food to cover, but that whole scenario is what flew through my brain after one bite of the following menu item.  “I HATE this thing….I LOVE this thing….I do NOT KNOW HOW TO FEEL SO I MUST DESTROY!  DESTROY!!! BUT OH MY GOD I LOVE IT SO! Eeeee….eeeeee…EEEEEE!!!” 

Categories are out of order, photos are spotty at best, and not everything I talk about will be “gay jock hate crime of love” good….but this little fucker was:

Best Bite of the Year- the Foie Gras BLT at Eola, Wash. DC

The only bad thing about this dish is the photo.  Bacon cured foie gras with a tomato-madeira concoction inside of truffled brioche. As God is my witness, this is one of the richest, most delicious bites of food….ever.  I mean, it spawned “GJHCOL”, just out of the blue.  If you love offal, you will love Eola. So much good shit, go back and read my DC reviews.

Best “It’s a Classic For a Reason, Dumbass”- Citronelle, Wash. DC

I’m not including Citronelle because it’s insanely expensive and I got my ass royally kissed….this place gave me a double whammy of GJHCOL back to fucking back.  First was the Blanquette of Nantucket Bay Scallops..tons of butter and the most perfect little scallops I’ve ever eaten…slight caramelization on the tops, translucent in the center.  Then the death blow- Halibut with saffron lobster sauce….the sauce was the thing…beyond lobster stock, saffron and butter I do not know what all was in there, but it was probably the best sauce of any kind I have eaten in my life.

Best “Where In the FUUUUCCKK Did This Place Come from?”- The Corn Exchange, Rapid City, SD

 

The Corn Exchange was an absolute surprise shot between the eyes as far as food and service.  I’d read great reviews, and it was the only “fine dining” option within a few hundred miles of where we were staying in Deadwood that sounded worthwhile.  As with most of these “best of’s”, for more info consult the original write-ups, but I will say….the young people on staff had incredible training and if they so desire will be able to go on to work at ANY high-end establishment in any major U.S. city. Their enthusiasm for the restaurant was as enjoyable as the food. And the food…if you’re anywhere near the area, I give it my highest recommendation.  Above I’ve featured their corn pancake topped with smoked salmon just to give you something to look at.

Best “I Feel Bad for Having to Tell My Local Chefs About It”-  Crab Pasta at The Boiler Room, Omaha, Neb.

The handcut tajarin with peekytoe crab at The Boiler Room was the best pasta dish I’d eaten since I dined at Quince in San Francisco.  And I’m not throwing that reference out just to sound cool, if you know your shit you know that Quince is the real deal. There are a million little intangibles when it comes to toothy perfection in a pasta, and Chef Kulik just destroys it up in Omaha.  GJHCOL level deliciousness. I shit you not, if I saw it posted on their website menu in the afternoon for that night’s special and I had the time to make it up there, I’d seriously consider a spontaneous trip to Nebraska.  The Boiler Room is the real thing, eat there.

Best “Softshell Crab at The Rieger”- the Softshell Crab at The Rieger, Kansas City, Mo.

I know, this one was a surpise winner in this category.  Your asses all knew The Rieger was going to show up here….just a matter of when and what.  No secret that I now just refer to it as “headquarters”, and I do look forward to softshell season 2012.  I’ve eaten plenty of softshell crabs and THESE…they are special.  But there’s so much good shit at The Rieger I just kind of settled on this dish because our time with it shall always be fleeting.

Best “Recovering Alcoholics are People TOO”- soft drinks at The Rieger and Justus Drugstore, and the Van Verde at Bluestem

Now I know these things weren’t all formulated just for my sorry low-bottom ass, BUT I am forever thankful for delicious and thought provoking non-alcoholic options when I dine out.  The Rieger Kola, pictured above, is just King Motherfucker and that’s the way it is. Flavorwise, it is the killer.  I’ve been opting for the Green Tea Ginger soda more often recently, but I always go back to the Kola.  At Justus you simply choose between savory and sweet when ordering a mocktail, and I promise you whatever you receive will be as incredible as any of their alcoholic drinks….okay, obvious bullshit THERE, but hey, they are still awesome.  And honorable mention absolutely goes out to Van at Bluestem…the no-booze version of the Van Verde with all of its cucumber smoothness is the perfect beginning to a five course meal in the dining room.

“Best Storyline”- Port Fonda

Like The Rieger, here is another place that I’ve ranted and raved about since our first visit to El Comedor on the hottest day of the year….July First Friday.  It has been chronicled here at least twice, but has to be included in my personal best-of for this year.  It got its start early this year and since then has exploded in popularity with dynamite walk-up Mexican street food, and a private dining experience that blows the mercury straight out of any hipster-cache thermometer. Great food, awesome people, and one hell of a story.  With the passing of Starker’s chef and owner John McClure this fall, a huge gap was left in our food scene and the fate of Barrio, the taqueria set to open in Westport in 2012, was unknown.  With the type of loyalty and love that makes me proud to be a KC food nerd, the folks at Port Fonda and McClure’s business partner Dan Doty teamed up and that taqueria is still going to open in the Spring of 2012.  The Port Fonda storyline expands and the collaboration and respect that is shared amongst some of my personal favorite people in this town will continue to be legendary. 

Best “Comfort Food- Redefined”- Vietnam Cafe, Columbus Park

One of the major food groups my wife has been missing badly since she moved up here is Vietnamese.  I took her to one place in the River Market where I’ve eaten for years, and we tried a couple of places that were new to both of us.  After a couple of visits to each of the (unrelated) Vietnam Cafe’s we have in KC, the one in Columbus Park just sucked us in.  Pretty much every chef I know and every friend who loves food has raved about Vietnam Cafe, but I never want to jump on a bandwagon even if I trust your opinion.  The place delivers, and has leap-frogged over restaurants like The Corner when we’re seeking soul warming comfort food. The pho, the rice dishes, the crazy low prices, the insanely fast service and people watching….I NEVER eat quickly anymore but I always find myself hoovering in whatever they put in front of me.  We need zero reason to head over there, so if you have not been….go, dummy.

“Best Way to Guarantee You’ll Need Your Entrees To-Go”- The Italian Nachos at Cascone’s

This dish will go on every “best of” list I do for the rest of my life….totally non-traditional, insanely unhealthy and filling, and absolutely mandatory.  Fried pasta chips, ground Italian sausage, asiago cheese sauce, parmesan, pepperoncini’s, black olives, tomatoes…..the only way you’re going to touch your entree is if you’re eating with at least three other people.  Total stoner bliss, death row meal material, this is something that will remain legendary.

Best “Only Reason to Drink Coffee Other Than My Own”- the espresso at Grunauer

You know me, I roast my own coffee and have for at least a decade. I generally only use beans from Ethiopia or Yemen with the occasional use of Sumatran or Indian Monsooned if a good crop is available. I make my shit STRONG, my regular cup o’ joe will leave the flavor of most espressos in the dust.  But the Meinl espresso they make at Grunauer is probably the single best restaurant coffee I’ve ever had.  Usually if I can even detect coffee flavor when dining out I’ll say it’s “good”…so when I actually get flavor overload, then holy shit, I’ve stumbled upon the beverage version of GJHCOL.  More places like Justus and The Farmhouse are doing French Press these days, and there are many choices for locally roasted beans, but Grunauer’s espresso is far beyond anything else I’ve ordered in KC.

Best “Made Me Wish I Was a PMS’ing Teenage Girl So I Could Truly Appreciate It”- the Christopher Elbow/Port Fonda drinking chocolate collaboration

These crazy fuckers got together and took what is ALREADY a ridiculously rich and flavorful beverage (that you can’t call hot chocolate because it truly is “drinking chocolate”) and took it to the next level.  I’m not a huge chocolate lover, but God in heaven, the addition of what tasted like orange peel and spicy chiles made a believer out of me.  No need to go looking for it, it was a one-time thing as far as I know, and you know it was delicious if I’m not even mentioning the freshly fried churros they served with it.

Best “Yes I Am Aware It’s a Polarizing Place, But the Food is Phenomenal and  My Street Cred is Such that I Can EAT WHEREVER THE FUCK I WANT”- Justus Drugstore

The title of this award pretty much sums it up.  Do I know diners and restaurant professionals who do not like Jonathan Justus?  Oh yeah. Absolutely. But until I hear stories about him poisoning Tylenol bottles or happily serving Rick Perry or Sarah Palin, I will continue to be a fan. The man puts out some consistently thoughtful and well-executed food. It is rare for my wife and I to spend a thirty minute car ride combing over the finer points of the meal we just ate, and more often than not that’s what happens after our meal there. And the service….excellent.  If you know me, you know the only chef’s ring I’m going to kiss in this town is Howard Hanna’s, and that’s only because we have the same wedding band….I don’t fall for the fanboy bullshit.  If the food was not top notch I wouldn’t eat there just to remain in the KC dining elite, much less rave about it.  Anyone who doubts my ability to completely alienate and terrorize a REAL douche of a chef, feel free to consult the local archives. 

 

Best “Who Knew That Shit Went Together?” – the Sweetbreads and Scallops at The Rieger

That’s pretty much it. Who knew?  Two of my favorite foods on the same plate together, both executed individually and perfectly.  If I’m a dumbass for not knowing this is some legendary goddamn Escoffier classic, well then fuck ME…

“Best Reason to Own at Least One Chest Freezer”- Paradise Locker Meats

I’d say at this point about 85% of the meat we eat comes from Paradise Locker. We are lucky to be able to buy from a place that caters to many, many top tier dining establishments.  Smartest half hour drive ever.  They know their product, and it’s not like Lobel’s… you don’t have to have an upper-east side salary to afford to buy most of your meat there.  Now, it’s not as cheap as your factory farmed grocery store truckload sale selections…..but the trade-off is YOU CAN ACTUALLY TASTE THAT IT’S MEAT!   We are happy to eat a slightly smaller quantity of a much higher quality product, and the selection is varied enough to make it a lot of fun.  It’s a whole circle of life thing…you support a locally owned operation that supports local farms…a meaty and delicious goddamn hippie dream.

Best “Better Late to the Party Than Never”- the radish pods from Crum’s Heirlooms

This was the year we joined our first CSA because it was the first year our favorite farmers (from whom we buy every week during the season ANYWAY) offered one. There were many, many items we loved and lusted over….kohlrabi comes to mind, mountains of kale, RADISHES, tomatoes….but the big one that stuck out due to its uniqueness (and newness to MY clueless ass) was definitely the humble radish pod.  Everthing that is good about a snap pea and spicy radish rolled into one little package.  Eaten alone, on salads….everything about them is good.  Our favorite thing is to mimic a Rieger dish and top a piece of grilled Farm to Market Bread with a salad that features the pods, radishes and greens, all topped with an over-easy egg.  Definitely loving the CSA way of life and the Crum’s are the best…..cannot wait to see what 2012 has in store for us.

“Best Testaments to the Fact That My Kitchen Kung-Fu is Strong”- Macarons and Sous Vide cooking

I’ve featured both of these things on my blog, so I won’t spend a ton of time here.  Mainly just wanted to say that between learning how to successfully make macarons, and bringing sous vide into my regular cooking rotation, I feel like a pretty goddamn accomplished home chef.  Above you’ll see the assorted macaron colors and flavors that were part of my Christmas gift selection for  very lucky recipients this year, and below that is some Ad Hoc fried chicken that was brined and sous vide prior to frying.  Macarons are a bastard to make, sous vide is like falling off a log….and both result in impressive and delicious offerings.  Oh, most recently the 48 hour shortribs (Piedmontese from Paradise Locker, naturally) shot to the top of my best-ever special occasion recipes….or not so special occasion…whenever I have shortribs on hand counts as special.

Best “I Don’t Often Choose to Read, But When I Do It’s About Food…”- Lucky Peach

Yeah, I like reading some gratuitous Bourdain rambles and I worship David Chang as a fellow lover of finely crafted profanity.  And you KNOW YOU’RE COOL when you can drop little nuggets out of THIS publication. Seriously though, a great read, I’m just about done with Issue #2.  Awesome recipes, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  I feel a kindred spirit when reading Lucky Peach, and it forces me to read….something I swore I would never do again after grad school.

Best “Poised for World Domination”- Colby and Megan Garrelts, Bluestem and Trezo Vino

And we will finish this hell-ride up by bringing it all back full circle….folks that took my expectations for fine dining in KC over the top.  Colby has made like forty trips out to NYC to be continually shot down by the James Beard dicks, and Megan has always been like “you all WILL believe that dessert is just as vital a part of your meal as a first course or main”.  Now I don’t know if any of THAT shit is the impetus behind the juggernaut, but they are vivisecting the local scene like a pageant mom with a grudge.  A second restaurant, a third on the way, any and all collateral damage to the flagship addressed with a vengeance, and the greatest thing of all for those of us who have been there since the doors opened….a cookbook (complete with signings and a media blitz that probably includes the outer banks of Siberia for all I know).   I don’t mean this to sound condescending AT ALL, but “watching Bluestem grow up” has been a total joy.  I eat a ton of different places, I always have some current obsession, but I always know that I can go back to Bluestem and get service and food that reminds me why I continually champion the KC food scene.  Well played, demons.

So wasn’t it great how I included the gay jock thing for no real reason and then only made gratuitous references to it throughout this whole mess in order for it not to be completely unnecessary?  Maybe in 2012 I’ll get a totally new yet still homoerotic vision that ventures into the land of the male g-spot….we can only hope and pray for that.

And that’s about all I’ve got….Santa was kind, we’re co-hosting a huge NYE party tomorrow night, and all is well.  Happy New Year, pricks.

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Being A Good Customer…

This week one of my favorite restaurants (“El Comedor”) that I’ve mentioned at least twice in my blog got an across-the-board four star review in the Kansas City Star ( http://www.kansascity.com/2011/09/14/3140292/review-uniquely-superb-port-fondas.html ). Well deserved….it’s the right combination of everything that is good about food and fun about eating, and I could ramble about Port Fonda, Patrick, Max and Katy all day long…but it’s just a jumping off point for what’s really on my mind. I have helpful knowledge to share today, goddammit.

I’ve eaten in El Comedor more than once and looking forward to going again… I’m insanely happy about it and proud to be a part of  the communal love shared by a great group of KC chefs, BUT there is a pretty long progression and a distinct learning curve when it comes to that sort of situation being a normal part of your life…especially considering the fact that I’m not in the service industry, I’m not an entertainer, journalist, hipster, millionaire or anything of the sort. I’m just a dude who loves going out to eat. To be honest, there are some intangibles here that I cannot help anybody replicate…I’m pretty good at mixing with just about anyone, I have a wicked sense of humor, and for God knows what reason I’ve always just kind of drawn people in (the freak magnet part of that is a big downside). I’ve seen a lot of crazy shit in my day, so I’m at ease in damn near any social environment. Worst case scenario, I was a pentecostal minister turned porno dealer prior to my very vanilla IT career, so I can be a good little dancing monkey and provide endless stories from back in the day. And that’s not even counting the drinking adventures….hoo boy.

When I was talking to a food critic outside the trailer a couple of weeks ago, they jokingly asked me who I had to pay off to keep scoring the hands-down hardest to get table in the city….probably one of the toughest in the country at this point. My inferiority complex tells me that the chef is just having mercy on the poor retarded kid, and while that may be true enough it isn’t anything I’m going to advertise, so I just said….”I think being a nice person who is obviously there for the food and fellowship goes a long way”. The whole hipster/coolest kid on the block angle doesn’t mean shit to me….the restaurants that are still on my bucket list are far, far outnumbered by the great places I’ve already visited. And nothing makes me want to vomit more than a restaurant being “THE scene”. If Patrick was just some dude doing this same type of thing in a trailer in his mom’s driveway, if the food was still that good and I could bring my friends along, I’d fucking eat there any time. I don’t give a FUCK about the velvet rope aspect. YES it is FUNNY to know how many completely clueless people who haven’t done their homework email him thinking that the type of annoying persistence that gets them some comped spinach queso dip at Chi Chi’s is going to get them a Comedor booking. BUT I would rather light a candle than curse people’s darkness, so today what I have for you is at least a brief beginning to what I think of as “being a good customer”. If you’re an idiot who already thinks what I mean by being a good customer is bending over for a crazed egomaniacal autocrat of a chef so that I can be one of the “cool kids”, you’re in luck….my dick needs sucked. So get to it, and then go enjoy some fucking slop at the goddamn Ted’s Montana Grill you love so much because they let you be the customer who is always right.

#1- YOUR PRIORITIES HAVE TO ALREADY BE A LITTLE FUCKED UP-

It’s all about what you value….the value of me and my wife’s cars combined is probably around three or four thousand dollars. I know people who go out and spend forty grand on a new Lexus and then piss and moan about spending ten dollars on a lunch, because spending that much money on food is just STUPID. If you’re just a casual diner who doesn’t branch out much and chain restaurants are your thing because they are consistent and familiar, you’ll get some decent food and maybe awesome service from time to time, but the world of serious dining is probably not for you. And that’s cool man, everyone has their thing they love….cars, guns, scrapbooking, stamp collecting, Chiefs season tickets…whatever. Dining for me is an obsession and something I truly love and enjoy…I love a million things about it, and I have put in the time and work required that allows me to blend into that community and make great friends who feel the same way about it. The food is just one aspect of the big dance.

#2- COMMON COURTESY, how in the FUCK don’t people realize that?-

I’m a fun guy, I’m engaging. I bring a lot to the table. Most of all, I’m a nice guy. If you’re nice to me, I’m in your corner and I’m a handy sumbitch to have in your corner. Simple things, man…if you’re going to need to split checks, mention that shit right at the beginning…no fucking suprises at the end of the meal where everyone tries to figure out who is supposed to pay for what appetizer. Be clear at the onset. OR, shit like- if you drink at the bar before you are seated, tab out before you go to your table, don’t have that shit transferred to your dinner bill. Pay your bartender, tip your bartender. Really basic shit….some substitutions are fine, leave off the cheese, dressing on the side, etc. etc., but there are people who try to completely rebuild the menu on a slamming Saturday night…want Caesar dressing specially made WITHOUT anchovies, crazy stuff….horrible human beings. Nightmares of the planet who pretend to have some weird allergy just to get their way. Make reservations if the place takes them…don’t go walking in on a Saturday night and be shocked that your ass is waiting two hours for a table IN the men’s room (and then when you ARE seated, act like a total pissed off asshole expecting them to blow you for your trouble the whole time because you’re too stupid to take the time to book ahead).

This could go on forever……..too many examples, but here is the big one-

TIP! And I begin this under the assumption that anyone reading it already knows shit like you tip on the original amount if you’re using a Groupon, coupon, gift certificate, whatever. If you don’t know THAT shit, then go start hoarding cats and get to know the state worker who will be managing you. If I am a “regular” somewhere, it is a place where I tip at least 30%…it’s also a place where I have a regular server, but even if that person isn’t working that night, then whomever takes their place still gets 30%. And to be clear, for any piece of SHIT reading this who doesn’t count tax, alcohol, etc. when calculating the tip….you tip off of the highest number, dumbass. Tax, wine, what the fuck ever…it counts, it ALL COUNTS! If you have some egocentric retard logic that says otherwise, you seriously deserve to have someone fuck up your face….restaurants for you are just places for you to compensate for your lack of power and control in your real life, so stay the fuck at Ruth Chris or McCormick and Schmick and all of those bullshit chains where they are happy to treat assholes like royalty. Seriously, you can know all you want about a chef and be a kiss ass and all that, but it’s your front of the house people who make shit happen…the amount of free food, great tables and VIP treatment I get is pretty cool….and you know how that happens? I’m a nice guy….low maintenance, genuinely invested in the experience, and I take care of my people. Common fucking courtesy. Politeness. If I have an early Saturday night reservation I don’t linger over coffee…I give the valuable real estate back so someone else can sit down and buy food. Simple respect….things often forgotten these days.

#3- LEAVE THE CHEF THE FUCK ALONE-

Okay, you’re impressive. You know the guy who just got the big review and you are also showing off your “faincy” new dress on a hopping Saturday night….so that trip across the dining room and straight back to the kitchen would probably be greatly appreciated by him, right? No. It’s not right. It’s wrong. It is so wrong. It’s Saturday, there are people at work who are making the place worthy of that review you just read…don’t go messing up the flow with a goddamn panty raid on the kitchen. As they have time, chefs make the rounds….they know that PR is part of their job, and all of my bitchiness aside, they probably really do like you and appreciate the fact you want to talk to them. Most chefs are very, very cool that way. But the time they have available forces them to be strategic with their table visits….chances are good that on a Saturday night they’re going to have to schmooze with a less-savvy/big money group or perhaps other industry folks who are visiting from another city when in fact they would much rather be chilling with you or another cool regular. That’s how it goes, don’t take it personally, and don’t be a whiny suckup. Have some self respect for Christ’s sake.

#4- KNOW FOOD-

Understanding different methods, ingredients, seasonality and things of that nature really make you a valuable customer….especially if your server is bombarded with people who need every fucking ingredient and word explained to them. Enthusiastic, collaborative discussion about food is therapeutic…you bond with people over that shit. It sets you apart from the weekend warriors because you know food well enough to be there for THAT. Overly simple, but this is really at the heart of it all. It’s exciting. It’s why we love food.

#5- ORDER RIGHT, DUMBASS!-

I swear to God, nothing pisses me off more than when someone I know FINALLY visits a restaurant I love that they’ve asked me a million questions about, and then acts like they are doing ME a favor….only to come back with THIS bullshit:

“So, we finally visited whatever-the-fuck-restaurant!”

“Yeah, how was it?”

“Well…it was okay, we didn’t really see what all of the fuss was about.”

“Seriously? What did you guys order?”

“We both got the house salad and shared one of the appetizers.”

Aaannnnd SCENE! I shit you not, people are that stupid. First of all, wasting real estate on a Saturday night like that is enough to knock them in the head. Secondly, BOTH of you ordering the safest, plainest possible thing and THEN only venturing in far enough to SHARE one damn APPETIZER….is more than likely, and I am no psychic, but it’s more than likely not going to be the greatest sampling you need to get an accurate accounting of the flavors offered. And of course, then I’m the idiot who actually goes there all the time as they go around the office with their emperor has no clothes bullshit directed at me.

Order right. Trust your server. Check out the specials. If the chef is pumped about a specific dish or ingredient…chances are it’s not going to suck. Don’t all order the same thing. Don’t look for a great burger at a Vietnamese joint. Don’t use goddamn Texas Roadhouse as your measuring stick. Be realistic. Oh, and these are not poor people I’m talking about, I’d never ding someone for not being able to afford the full smorgasbord, I’m not an asshole….these are professional people with enough money to order an actual meal…and they are stupid. Don’t be like them. Don’t be stupid.

#6- THINK LOCAL, LIKE THE FUCKING HIPPIES-

This whole dining thing is part of a much, much larger picture….get to know that picture. Buy as much local product as fiscally possible, get to know your farmers and your suppliers, get into the seasonal nature of cooking and GRAVITATE TOWARDS the types of restaurants and chefs who operate in that manner. It’s really simple, but it’s a vital link to that community….I personally know the farmers who provide much of the produce we eat in our home, and they also supply the restaurants where I eat…I literally shared one great meal with my butchers and one with my farmers in El Comedor…both times eating food THEY personally provided TO the chef. The goddamn circle of life and all that….get to know people, you’ll get to know the people that THEY know, and at some point you’ll be where I’m at….never having to worry about whether or not my meal will be good because it’s either a place I already love OR it is a place personally recommended to me by those people whom I already know and trust. Top tier five star dining, hole in the wall Mexican with fucking crime scene tape on the floor, and everything in between…all awesome.

Granted, money and calorie-wise the majority of your meals are going to have to be eaten at home…and here is the bonus- sourcing great products and learning tips, recipes and various recommendations from suppliers and chefs improves your home cooking exponentially. Being a good home cook makes me a better diner and vice versa…it becomes much easier to identify truly great food when I can connect with a dish because it’s something I want to try and replicate OR it is something so far beyond me I could never pull it off.

#7- SOME SIMPLE SHIT TO LOOK FOR-

It is only possible to visit so many restaurants per month, and it is important to continue to take recommendations and keep trying new places in addition to your favorites.  We have what we refer to as “the circuit”…it’s a group of Saturday night date night level restaurants that include places like Lidia’s, Justus Drugstore, Bluestem, The Rieger and obviously Port Fonda/El Comedor.   We’ve got a ton of other places for all sorts of ethnic, casual and greasy spoon meals, but the aforementioned places are some of our tried and true places where we’re pretty serious regulars when we want a “nice” dinner.

Long story short, what gets my regular business besides creative, delicious and spot-on cooking is a very basic thing….a shared sense of pride and ownership.  When the chef is all about their town, farmers, producers, etc., and the staff is all about their chef and genuinely love the food and want YOU to have a great time and love it like they do…THAT is the magic. That’s the dance, and it is what makes me excited to be there and to keep coming back.  I know that only makes sense to a handful of people, as evidenced by the “wham bam thank you maam” types of chain-loving folks I encounter. 

#8-SPREAD THE WORD-

I’ll be honest, I’m not some fucking patron saint of service industry good will and cheer.  There are some very grand, touchy feely moments and the highest hopes for your favorite chefs and all that, but there are also moments when it’s good to be king.  When you’re entertaining relatives from out of town and you’re showing off your favorite restaurant to them on a slamming Saturday night, and your server happily approaches your premium perch to inform you that the chef knew you were coming in so he held back the last two orders of softshell crab they’d probably have available for the season, and you get to sit there munching away while the table of moneyed yuppies next to you watches and collectively shit themselves because the dish wasn’t available to THEM….there is no price you can put on that.  Or another good one….getting a peak at a cool ass cookbook that won’t be available to the general public for a couple of months.  I share a lot of love and respect with many local restaurateurs, but when it comes down to brass tacks….they are there to make a goddamn living. Nobody wants to be a starving artist here, kids. If I like a place and I like you, I want you to love the same place and go there often.  BUT I’m also pretty cool about not using a restaurant as a dumping ground for every scenester or stingy, hard to please asshole that I know.  I’m pretty much a total dick about whom I will or will not spend time with; I just don’t like wasting time with dipshits. And I’m assuming the same can be said for any cherished server who would give me the stinkeye for blindsiding them with a douche.  You spread the word…word of mouth is how I do business in 99% of my various transactions…I want my money to stay local and I want to build relationships. RELATIONSHIPS….are key here.

In summation…I’m in kind of a weird place because I do not have a venue other than this blog to ramble about all of this shit….and that is honestly not my goal.  I’m a huge egomaniac, so I believe my writing is better than a lot of the popular bloggers and critics. And if people want to read my stuff, great, but I’m not going to shorten it, learn proper grammar or clean anything up just to be featured in some fucking rag.  And I’m not a food critic, that is a very important distinction for me….I do find restaurants I’m not crazy about, but unless someone is just a total FUCKER I’m not going to take the piss out of a place; I just don’t write about it and I don’t go back.  Between Yelp and the various food boards across the internet, one important thing gets lost…you can be real damn brave behind a keyboard and lose sight of the simple fact that you could unnecessarily and unwittingly fuck with someone’s livelihood.  I only know of one….okay two….chefs who would go out of their way to give you the finger if you said their food sucked.  One is just a goddamn savant and I will forgive it, and the other is locked away in the bowels of some hotel kitchen where he can’t do too much harm. The vast, vast, vast majority truly and from their heart want you to enjoy your meal and they appreciate your business.  If you don’t like something they want to make it right, and before you take to the internet to light them up I think you should give them a chance to make it right, or at least let THEM know about your issue before you start your march to the sea.  You’ll never meet someone more meticulous and self-conscious than a great chef.  And when you find that special blend of alchemy that is evidenced from the front to the back of the house, it deserves to be loved and respected, and it damn sure deserves to be shared.

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