Category Archives: Food Blog

Ra Sushi: Leawood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes Sir. Sorry.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m gonna try the Kegel Kooler.”

“Raspberry or Kaffir Lime with that, sir?”

“Kaffir Lime.  No homo.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Waiting for the drop!”

“What?”

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

“I really have to go!”

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

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

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

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

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

Ra Sushi

11638 Ash St.

Leawood, KS 66211

913-850-6260

http://www.rasushi.com/

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

Advertisements

1 Comment

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

Quad Macchiato Quest 2013…

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

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

 

Broadway Café- 4106 Broadway
Coffee: Broadway Roasting Company
 

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

Oddly Correct- 3940 Main Street
Coffee: Oddly Correct
 

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

 

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

 

 
All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

3 Comments

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

The Ribald Sophisticate’s Guide to Food Fighting…

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

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

untitled-7

 

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


20130211_191659_resized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20130211_202725_resized

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

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

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

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

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

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

Leave a comment

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

Best Food of 2012…

A few things…

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

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

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

AND HERE ARE YOUR WINNERS!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Brunch”- Bo Ling’s   

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

Best Beverage”-  Goya Ginger Beer  

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

Best New Pork Dish”- Pig Tails at Port Fonda   

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

Best Appetizer”- The Italian Nachos at Cascone’s   

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

Best Burger”- The Jacobson Burger at The Jacobson  

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

Meat of the Year”- Rabbit!

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

Best Offal Discovery”- Rabbit! 

See parenthetical comments above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Place for Group Dining”- 715

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

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

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

Leave a comment

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

Pictures Or It Didn’t Happen…

I don’t know about anyone else who has a camera, but when I was shopping for my Nikon D5100, I knew once I got my hands on it that time would stand still like I was Barry Pepper as Joe Galloway in “We Were Soldiers”.  Head on a swivel, in slow motion, click-click-click, prominent cheek bones, misty background, my own somber theme music….with a PURPOSE; newly energized and reborn with laser focus in capturing timeless photographic truths.  Yeah, I guess, kind of a DICK when you think about it….I mean, Mel Gibson was pretty cavalier about that one napalm canister frying half his guys, but Barry Pepper could have put down his camera for a couple of seconds to help that one Asian dude.  But that’s the thing- good photography has a body count if you’re doing it correctly. That’s just the way it goes. If you have a good camera, you get to be like Barry Pepper.

But you DON’T get to be like Barry Pepper.  You get to be like the dozens of 70 year old women with the exact same camera pushing past you to cockblock the picture you’re trying to take in Thorncrown Chapel. And THAT…is the beginning and the end of the glory.  The added bonus is when you realize how long it’s going to take to process the gigantic fucking files you created after hearing people say “oh, you have to shoot in RAW”.  The inferiority complex that is created by having a rig with limitless settings yet choosing to shoot everything in Auto-mode (without flash) is only compounded by your lack of Photoshop software knowledge and the growing fear that you are colorblind in various ranges of pigment.  By the time your little preciouses are posted on Facebook or distributed via various electronic methods, you are totally sick of them and convinced they look like the work of a beshitted, cataract-heavy chimp.

 YAY! A closeup of my sandwich with the cool fuzzy background look to it!  All you really do to yourself is realize how much better everyone else’s pictures look.  One of those idiots who holds their iPad out like it’s a board their kung fu nerd buddy is about to roundhouse kick as they snap photos ends up with better pictures than your dumb ass.

 The one small comfort I have found as I beat my head against the wall is the strange sense of legitimacy that comes with owning a “real” camera.  Other than the old battleaxes who order their family members in and out of shots between you and your subject, people generally get out of the way when you are taking a photo….in a sea of cameraphones, whip out the Nikon and boom- people must think you really mean business.  Plus, you get to look like slightly less of an asshole taking pictures at the dinner table…real camera = real pictures = you are part of some level of media that requires your photographic prowess.

 While I’m working on lining up the next installment of The Squander Logs (which has given me a new respect for people who acquire, execute and document interviews BTW), as well as a yearly check-in with “3 Years Sober, and a Church at My Grandma’s House”, I thought some decent filler would be my photographic holocaust over the last couple of months.  I’ve got some “artsy” shots from our recent anniversary trip to the Ozarks, and food-nerd glory courtesy of The Rieger.

 

 This might be my favorite picture I’ve taken thus far, because it’s just creepy.  It’s a decrepit Kewpie Doll in a display at the Ralph Foster Museum at the College of the Ozarks.  I used a 10x macro filter and put it right up against the display glass.  Lesson learned here- $10 filters only exist to show you their limitations and make you want a dedicated lens.

Nothing special here other than the fact it was early enough to get the photo without the five billion cars and people that would be arriving in downtown Eureka Springs within the next couple of hours.

Sometimes I just fuck around with foreground/background focus (I have zero comprehension of actual photography terms, so fuck off) and the picture usually sucks until you put it in black and white, and then all you’re missing is the guy to advertise for London Fog.

When processing your pictures in Lightroom, it gets boring fast. But you can always depend upon your friendly saturation settings to make any picture say “Welcome to Jamaica!”.

 One of my favorite photos, and I call it “Go Fuck Yourself Instagram”.  I got up early as hell and waited to make sure the sun was coming up and there were zero cars or people. This is one of the rare moments where I actually thought of the picture the night before and went out to acquire it…..but none of that shit matters, because essentially all I did was reproduce one of the gajillion Instagram settings.

 

 It was at Green Dirt Farms, at the Rieger dinner, that I discovered my nice zoom lens wasn’t just for shooting things that are far off…like zebras and shit.  I bought a good fixed focal length lens in addition to the zoom, and it takes great photos like the creepy Kewpie, but with the zoom I find you can be both lazy and sneaky….and very artsy.  Just look at these bottles for instance. I was a good ten feet away with people on all sides, but I got one of those close-ups that allow you to delude yourself into thinking….hey, I am acceptable at this.

 

 

When visiting Green Dirt Farms with more than just your cameraphone, you are pretty much a dick if you don’t get a shot of the knives.  That’s just how it works.   And these are ACTUAL Laguiole knives…not those knockoffs that SOME restaurants use….you know who you fucking are.  Quality cutlery on a farm provides a dichotomous context in which you can think of all sorts of crazy shit to feel fancy about.

 

 

 You see this quaint corner of the barn and it makes you forget it wasn’t that long ago that sheep placenta reigned supreme in this space. 

 

 

If you take many pictures I don’t have to tell you why this one is shitty.  Is there something even flatter than one dimensional?

 

 

It’s lamb. Up close. But not so close that it blows your mind. I have those pictures too. But you couldn’t handle them.

 

 

The Bossa from Green Dirt Farms is one of the finest sheep’s milk cheeses in all the land.  This photo is all about the quantity of cheese.  It inspired me to start using Bossa cut like this as a bun.

 

 

 Bossa meets The Rieger….this will definitely make my “Best of 2012” list.   A mushroom frittata with half a Bossa sunk into the middle of it shortly before it’s done.  The quality of the photo doesn’t matter, this is a test to prove whether or not you have a soul……no love, no soul. You don’t have to want to eat this dish, but you need to think really hard before you open your fucking mouth with anything less than pure reverence.

 

 

 This isn’t a photo, it’s a cheesy obligation whenever the sun is setting.  No context, no depth, I can’t afford the camera it would take to make something like this a panty dropper.

 

 

 Next up- a few shots from the night of my “White Trash Picnic” Birthday Party at The Rieger.  The Rieger is my favorite restaurant in Kansas City, and I have zero obligation to food journalism or the food critic gods to be measured or evenhanded in my praise.  The party was a smashing success, but the important thing here is the degradation of quality from photo to photo.  I’m never going to be Barry Pepper in We Were Soldiers.  I can’t even keep my focus long enough to spend a few seconds setting up a shot or taking basic details into consideration.  Then you turn me loose in Adobe Lightroom, and I do some shit like turn the restaurant walls bright green. 

 

 

Now this looks pretty good….housemade cheese bugles and corn nuts.  Not too bad with the available light.

 

 

 It’s deviled eggs.  And that’s it.

 

 

 Hey, cool, you can keep switching lenses in the middle of dinner….at least the extreme closeup of the Pasta Primavera Salad (with housemade mortadella!) masks how boring you are.

 

 

 No, it’s not my dick in a box. It’s pimiento celery. I am NOT kidding you!

 

 

 Man. All on an angle and shit with the crockpot meatballs. Sunday Schools across the nation will be lining up to hire me.

 

 

 Sorry, I was nodding off for a minute there…..the wheels were officially off the bus at this point.  Sure, it’s a white trash picnic, but no need to disrespect wonderful food like this…especially the Shake n’ Bake pork chops.  I’m new enough to put part of the blame on available light, but I can only milk that bullshit for so long.

 

 

What’s good for a Kewpie Doll doesn’t necessarily work for onion rings. Lose the filters. How is it possible to make something round so goddamn flat?

 

 

 This had to be seen to be believed.  Creamed corn or the set from the movie Dune?  You decide.

 

 

 It’s a fruit cocktail icebox pie from Tasha Goellner.  But you would never know that because I apparently suffer from photographic Asperger’s Syndrome.

 

 

The End

 

 

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

2 Comments

Filed under Fine Dining, Food, Food Blog, Food Photography, Food Reviews, Rieger Hotel Grill and Exchange

Lincoln Cafe- Mt. Vernon, Iowa

We headed up Interstate 35 last weekend, just as I did countless times before when I was living in Minneapolis and made frequent trips back home. However, this time when the highway forked left to send travelers up towards the Land of 10,000 Lakes, we stayed right and ventured onward through the farms and fields of eastern Iowa. Beautiful Midwestern expanse in spite of the coming storms, and a much needed respite for both of us as we took a relaxing journey that would include at least two brief stops prior to our highly anticipated dinner in Mt. Vernon that evening. My wife and I are people who would happily bypass The Louvre if we were forced to choose between it and…something like The Museum of the Inquisition. The heck with The Smithsonian, we would say…for us it’s all about the lesser known monuments, museums and displays of “outsider art”. Prior to ANY roadtrip we consult websites like RoadsideAmerica.com in order to determine if there is something worthy of venturing off the beaten path as we drive towards our destination. On the way to Mt. Vernon, there was the future home of Captain James T. Kirk in Riverside, the “cursed” Black Angel grave marker in Iowa City, and the crown jewel of this particular drive… L.J. Maasdam’s Wheel Art in Lynnville. Maasdam’s towering masterpiece was completed in 1994 when he was 90 years old, and its history includes endearing stories about his children re-welding some of the rusty wagon wheels at night because L.J. wasn’t a very good welder and they wanted to spare him any disappointment if he found out they were helping him. This is artwork well worth the ten minute drive off the main highway, and I believe this blog post will showcase the first pics using my fancy new camera….

I pulled my car up onto the small hill near the tower of wagon wheels. It is much bigger in person than one would think, and with a new camera and multiple lenses to play with, the potential for good photography would be endless….if I were a real photographer! The sky was overcast and there was a slight mist in the air that I had to contend with as I kept wiping my lens and moving around to find the best angles. Barren fields all around, out buildings off in the distance, a perfect backdrop for such a fascinating monument to folk art. My wife was back in the car waiting for me, and between my intense focus and the loud, gusting winds, it was a little bit of a surprise to realize someone had walked up to within fifteen feet of me without me noticing. There are the caricatures of farmers that exist on television and in print, and then there are actual farmers…I am familiar enough with both that I realized immediately the elderly man in the jeans, heavy workshirt, thick gloves and ballcap standing in front of me was a real farmer. After brief introductions and a handshake, he began to talk about the sculpture, and how even though he never knew L.J., he believed that it symbolized the hard facts of what it takes to make a life for oneself from the land.

Forging metal to turn the packed earth, making your vision worth all of the hard work, leaving behind a legacy that is about more than just one man….we spoke of those things for a bit, leaning up against the fence made from those wagon wheels, then he took off his right glove to accentuate one point. “A man does all of this with the only tools he truly owns; these hands”, he told me, “from the day you are born until the day you die, you always pray for the strength of your character to guide what you are building with these hands”. Much of what he said immediately rang true for me. Not that I have managed to always exhibit those traits, but anyone who knows me well and knows my story can attest to the fact that I really do try. “You keep an eye on the world around you”, he continued, “you keep your arms around the ones you love, and you keep it strong…THIS hand”, he said, putting the palm of his right hand three inches from my nose, “when all is said and done, son, you have got to keep your PIMP HAND strong!”.

Not knowing quite how I should react, I just calmly stood there, trusting the new direction his homily was taking. He never broke eye contact, but his stare did get a little wilder as he began to slowly step backward and kept repeating in a softer voice “your piiiiimp haaaand, keep your piiiiimp hand stroooong….”. For every two steps he moved backward, I took one, not wanting to alarm him, but all of a sudden he seemed to snap out of his trance, stared at my feet as they shuffled backward, looked back up at me, bared his teeth and hissed “PIMP HAND!” and kept saying it louder and louder while alternately slapping his face brutally hard (WITH his pimp hand). He did that at least twenty times as I continued backing up, afraid to just turn my back on him. Finally he stopped, dropped his head and took off his hat. He started scratching the top of his head, and a whining wail began coming up from somewhere deep inside him, and his body shook like he was readying for blast-off. As his whining turned into a shriek he slowly lifted his head and locked his eyes onto mine. At this point I was like “fuuuuuuuck THIS”, and turned around and bolted towards the car. For an old man, he was incredibly quick and I could hear him gaining on me. I started screaming at my wife “START THE CAR! STAAARRTT THE FUUUCKKIIINNNG CAAARRRRR!! START THE CAR! START THE CAR! START THE CAR!”. She was obviously startled, but I did hear the engine turn over. I was about to start screaming for her to get my pistol from the console as I ran like hell, but suddenly I stopped hearing the old farmer’s feet charging across the ground and heard instead what sounded like a single loud crack of a whip. I turned my head just enough in the same split second to see his body five feet in the air, parallel to the ground and facing straight downward, a taught length of chain holding his left ankle to some anchoring point just over the hill behind the sculpture. I quickly turned back to the car before he even hit the ground, but I did hear the thud and huge exhale of air from his lungs. Both of us safe, we drove on towards Mt. Vernon.

Soooo anyway, does anyone else remember Al Goldstein’s “Screw” Magazine?  Not the boring post-Goldstein version, but the old school 70’s and 80’s porn periodical classics.  How about Jim and Debbie Goad’s “Answer Me”?  When I think of whatever unique voice I could bring to the incredibly dense, generally repetitive and weirdly competitive world of food writing, I go back to those fine examples of visceral entertainment. I want to be THEM. The last thing I wrote with the uber-foodies yammering back and forth is really how I see elements of the social media drenched world of “artisanal” food…slow food at the speed of the internet. Now, I am not discounting someone’s personal history in their food community or their love for their favorite chef (and if I know you and you are reading this smarmy negativity, it sure as hell isn’t about YOU, you fucking egomaniac).  I know a lot of people who can cook, write or take photos, professionally or for fun, whom I totally respect.  The last thing I want to sound like is the sour grapes guy whining “Booo-hoooo! Now that EVERYONE does it it’s not cool anymore!”.  What I’m getting at is the increasing phenomenon where someone who is marketing or public relations savvy with almost no personal history with any aspect of the culture (not exclusive to food, obviously) can wake up one morning and reinvent themselves with such vigor and permanence that questioning the iffy provenance of their prefab calling could cause collateral damage within that culture.  Contrived expertise that fabricates a dependency upon it and breeds legions of succubi who wield their weapons from the safe confines of Yelp, Facebook and Twitter.  As the information on trends and the must-have reservations is disseminated more and more quickly, fond are the memories of a time when a chef or producer only had to deliver one handjob to one writer or critic to keep their world on its axis. Now, a billion blistered palms later, every personal universe of every armchair critic with an axe to grind has to be taken into account to slow the tide of potential bad reviews and miscommunications inherent to digital forums.  And it is the people who have their hands on the moon phases of that tide that worry me. In many ways, it’s not mine to judge…I’m not putting in the work to build the websites or consulting services, and I don’t make my living in a restaurant or on a farm.  Good people on both sides can benefit from this new relationship, no question.  I have no solid answers, I’m a guy with a prohibitively rambling blog who pushes his favorite restaurants on Facebook.  My speculation has to do with what I perceive as a cookie-cutter attempt to bring a corporate food and marketing angle into the food community and very aggressively pass it off as “locavorism”…. like Wal-Mart getting into the organic food game without bothering to mention that they bastardized the definition of “organic” in order to keep things cheap and the profit margins large.  I constantly wonder where the line is between my own overly protective, emotional investment in my most beloved institutions and being perceived as the same thing I fear most.  I guess the way I approach as much of the community as possible has to do with vetting….I am almost 100% a word of mouth customer.  I’m not a good target for bloggers, social media strategists, website developers or annoying hipsters, because my dollars and my energy usually only go towards a person, place or thing that I hear about firsthand from someone I trust. And once I try it and am convinced, I will ramble on about it incessantly….but even THAT is usually either relegated to this completely shill-proof blog or is lost in the avalanche of posts in the Facebook feeds of the whopping 150 people who even have access to this stuff.  I am loyal, and I think I’m a good guy to have on your side, and word of mouth has never done me wrong. Kind of like putting your money in your mattress. Fuck banks, and fuck purchases based on trending or shiny social engineering.  If I want a prime reservation, wheel of cheese, piece of meat or dried mushroom…I have a small but solid network of folks upon whom I can rely without fail, and they know they can count on me for the same type of favor.


So….word of mouth.  In my world it’s a very normal thing to drive for hours and spend the night in a different town just so you can try a new restaurant.  Especially when said restaurant is recommended by someone whose cooking and opinions on food I trust implicitly.  Lincoln Café got a big nod, so we picked a weekend, loaded up a care package with some of the best products KC has to offer, and lit out.  We love a nice roadtrip, so that works well with my desire to find great midwestern cuisine that exists outside the lineup of my local haunts.  Good food is good food, and one thing I’m hypersensitive about is when dickheads from much larger cities, or dickheads who ate in fucking Paris one time, come across like their personal calling is to always do that thing where they are polite but they still let you know they are being patronizing when they give any level of approval to someplace you recommend in flyover country.  I try to be even more hypersensitive to the fact that I could look like an even bigger asshole if I went from the whopping metropolis of Kansas City to an outlying hamlet and acted like I was doing anyone a favor.  When I check out new places based on what I hear from my friends, it is out of a genuine love for it. And if I take a care package with me, it has nothing to do one-upsmanship….sure, it is nice to show off your favorite producers, but it’s more about showing a level of hospitality that we midwesterners are famous for.  So when you’re showing the love to OTHER midwesterners, you have to ramp it up a bit because we are all just so damn friendly and generous.

Long story short, Lincoln Cafe has a specific combination of elements that make it pretty perfect.  First of all, Mt. Vernon is a beautiful little town where it seems like everyone walking down the street knows everyone else walking down the street.  There is an incredibly cool repurposed middle school building that houses everything from antique stores to a community center and even a martial arts studio….the perfect combination of old school small town charm along with a palpable youthful vibe that can be attributed to the nearby universities.  Okay, re-reading the last sentence made me want to kick my own ass, so I’ll just say that the cafe itself is like going to your favorite diner and your favorite Saturday night date spot combined. Jeans and a t-shirt or two hours of pimping yourself in a mirror, it’s all the same thing because it’s just a friendly place to be, and the food is the thing. And yes, I meant pimp, NOT primp, I constantly drop shit like that in my writing to fuck with people who live to play online editor on news sites.

Special app of the night- homemade cotechino sausage over Italian lentils w/spinach and preserved lemon. Great level of spice and fat, salt from the preserved lemon, earthiness of the lentils and sweet spinach....

After our stop at the wagon wheel sculpture, and the cemetery with the Black Angel, we still got into town earlier than we expected and strolled around for a bit.  I called Lincoln Café a few days earlier and tried not to sound like some kind of weirdo when I asked if there was a convenient time for me to stop in and take some pictures without getting in anyone’s way.  They were totally cool about it, after lunch service on Saturday sounded like the best plan, so we hung around and enjoyed the town.  To their credit, I will say that even though they officially “close” at 2pm, from what I could tell they were still seating people until then and nobody was getting the bum’s rush.  It’s little things like that I tend to notice and add to the list that comprises really great customer service. Saturday lunch pushing out closer to 3, dinner service starting up at 5 for a totally packed house….I respect that.

One of our surprise "extras" from the chef...housemade charcuterie sliced right, thin enough to melt really nice on your tongue. A fantastic chorizo on the right, with the perfect hit of funk to it, and if I remember correctly, a good and fatty Italian salami.

I have a legitimate reason to mention THE RIEGER in this post…not that I need one, so suck it.  Anyway, Howard told me about this place “up in Iowa” a couple of months ago and assured me they were great people who knew food.  He had cooked with them in 2010 in the Cochon 555 event in Des Moines, and had nothing but good things to say.  We met sous chef Andy that afternoon as I gave the spiel on the different items in the cooler I brought them.  Totally cool guy, knows his shit, does great charcuterie….man, if you could get him, Howard and Michael Beard to do one big charcuterie collaboriation/contest/orgy, that would surely be the event of the decade. Better include Alex Pope too…that goddamn coppa and all.  ANYWAY, Andy is cool, didn’t get to meet chef/owner Matt on this trip.  He walked through the place a few times during brunch, but I’m not the type of douche to go “Pardon me chef….I am from the metropolitan area of Kansas City, and even though you are obviously busy I want to bore your dick off for at least ten minutes on a Sunday when you probably would rather be anywhere else”.

Surprise course #2- homemade pasta with a braised pork shoulder ragu and fava beans. Very rich, just a killer because we each got a bowl of this...great texture to the pasta, favas are a smart addition to wedge something fresh and clean in there.

Foodwise, you can read the little blurbs under the photos, but the short story is- Lincoln Cafe is worth the trip. This is another element of the aforementioned perfection….a pretty standard permanent menu of chips and guac, awesome fries, hummus and pita, burgers, salads, etc…..all items ten bucks or less, and while we only tried the fries, the menu staples we did spy looked good. Especially those burgers. Then there are three entrée specials up on the board, an appetizer special and three desserts if I remember correctly.  You can go high end, low end, mix and match, whatever.  Including soup or salad with the entrees is a brilliant addition..how often do you see THAT these days, and also have it be of the highest quality? No liquor license, but you can bring in beer or wine for a flat $5 fee which is waived if you buy at least one bottle from their Wine Bar down the street (the fucking pizza there looks insane, definitely on the list to try next time).  They do take reservations now, and you are welcome to call ahead and have them put your name down (or just show up and try your luck), but I’d recommend a reservation because that place packs out.  We pulled up a minute or so before our 6pm table right as they were calling us to let us know our table was ready….very nice, mutually beneficial, addition to the service.

We had two out of the three nightly specials- this one was a very, very high quality piece of butter poached salmon with some very light gnocchi, asparagus, leeks and citrus bechamel....solid dish, both entrees contained proteins my wife named the best version of either she's ever had.

Lamb with green garlic and fava beans, falafel and meyer lemon ricotta....awesome amount of crisp sear and fat on the lamb, reminded me a lot of great Colorado lamb, but this was from Australia. Great dish at any restaurant, anywhere.

Speaking of the service….again, good combination of very friendly and casual mixed with a level of professionalism and detail that is required to get dishes of varying complexity fired and to your table in a seamless manner. Everyone was really sweet, and obviously into what the place is all about….that pride of ownership I never, ever shut up about.  In a packed and busy room, it was apparent that the only way to get everything done was for people to help each other as the need arose.  And in a room that size where it’s hard to hide, if there was any strife, competition or discord among the staff, then they were geniuses at covering it up and deserve even higher praise.

We pretty much had to order dessert even though they had almost killed us at this point...chocolate cake with different citrus and coconut sorbet. Well composed with good balance of sweet, rich and tart.

Most fun surprise dish of the night....the chef took some of the Shatto cotton candy milk we brought them and created a custard with it, accompanied with different elements like peanuts, apple sorbet and funnel cake...creating the perfect homage to fairground classics. Excellent dessert, and they sent two...excellent, but also brutal. We were shocked to be hungry again by breakfast.

Since we loved dinner enough to definitely make the trip again, we figured….why not stop in for brunch on Sunday before heading back to KC?  They open at 10am, and we walked right in and got a table. By the time we left, there was a decent sized crowd outside.  Again, there is a basic menu of some brunch items as well as many of the burgers, fries, etc.  The specials on the chalkboard included an omelette with spinach and pancetta as well as biscuits and gravy.  We got one of each, along with an order of some very good locally made breakfast sausage and an order of their spiced up potatoes.  Everything was very good, a few steps above your average smalltown diner breakfast for sure, but the major standout had to be the biscuits and gravy.  I’m the level of fiend that a dipshit like Guy Fieri pretends to be when it comes to B&G.  I don’t go throwing out compliments just because the people were nice to us…these things were awesome, definitely among the best I’ve ever had and I have had a LOT in my lifetime.  Perfect density and flavor to the biscuits, as well as ratio of sausage to gravy.  We weren’t going to get dessert, but when they offered us one with their compliments we went with the homemade lime bar with crème fraiche whipped cream.  Great spin on a classic, crazy-good crust.

 

So that is the story of our trip to Lincoln Cafe, with all of the usual extras that add a couple thousand words. It’s how I roll. You won’t hear about every restaurant I visit, you’ll generally only hear me talk about the ones I really like.  And when I really like a place I ramble on like a motherfucker…highly complimentary and usually appreciated by the objects of my affection, but jacked up enough to make me feel like I’m doing something a little different from your run of the mill Urbanspoon dickhead.  If it ever gets too fucked up even for people in the service industry to enjoy it, I may rethink my methodology.

Up next: I’m putting a lot of thought into a very specific style for an ongoing series of interviews.  I need to make a final decision about the actual interview questions, and approach enough people to guarantee I will have enough of them to sit back and watch the overall evolution. IF you are in the service industry and have any interest in taking part, be sure to reach out to me.  I guarantee it is nothing that will reflect badly on you…in fact, it probably won’t have any reflection on you at all.  AND this is actually real, not like any fake interview stuff I’ve done in the past. Anyway, there’s that. And other shit too, I’m sure.

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

Leave a comment

Filed under Food Blog, Food Reviews

Annoying Customer 2.0

There is an inspired conversation happening all across the Midwest right now, and with an abundance of talent in Kansas City positioning our town to be THE next big food destination, the conversation that all of us industry outsiders with a camera, a blog and a subscription to Lucky Peach are having sounds exactly like THIS…..

 TRUDY: So did you have dinner at The Second Coming yet? …….HA! HA! HA! RHETORICAL!!!!

 TAD: HA!….Yeah, made it to the first night of the pre-soft opening dinners before they do the actual soft opening.  Just fabulous….the food…and what they’ve done to utilize the repurposed lawn furniture while still maintaining the integrity of that abandoned mine mirrors the inherent generosity of the menu.

 TRUDY: Agreed.  When our server told me “No seriously, you really need to stay over here, that section of the mine isn’t safe yet”, I knew the food was going to have a lot to live up to…and it did. BUT…you were there that first night of the pre-soft opening?   Did you get stuck with a later seating?  We didn’t see you at the first one.

 TAD: Actually, we managed to get the last two spots at family meal, totally different menu.  We had rabbit sausage water and the crusts off the mini grilled cheese sandwiches that came with whatever you guys ate.

 TRUDY: OH! I HEARD about that!  So jealous!

 TAD: Yeah, but of COURSE, as USUAL, annoying Trip and Jenny scored the ultimate reservation.  They actually rode TO the restaurant with Chef Schvantz Grande and ate Wendy’s drive-thru on the way, then dessert course sitting on a box in the walk-in.

 TRUDY: Fuckers. I was wondering why I kept seeing those weird status updates of their middle fingers next to a Frosty and a big basket of chanterelles. 

 TAD: Well, they have money and tons of connections from their corporate non-food circles as a built-in marketing tool, therefore they have the most popular and respected food blogs.

 TRUDY: So I guess it’s safe to say that the next big trend is eating fast food with your local chefs?

 TAD: I’ve thought about that quite a bit, and while popular bloggers with major PR connections who get way more “Likes” than I do annoy me, I have to say…they may be on to something.  I mean, I’m starting to see meat and cheese from local producers in major grocery stores, even my mom belongs to a CSA now…these are both problems that indicate we’re hitting a level of saturation that will spawn the next big trend.  I think it’s fair to compare the current local, sustainable, farm to table trend with more of a Neoclassical approach to cuisine if we are still considering cooking an art form, in that it has managed to recapture a former grace and grandeur in its simplicity.  With what appears to be a trend where dining is more like theatre, and the artists themselves choose fast food over a waning locavore movement, one could make the argument that we are moving into more of a Mannerist period that emphasizes structure over nature.

 TRUDY: Isn’t that from the foreword to “Modernist Cuisine”?

 TAD: No, you probably saw it on my blog post about how the only legitimate food blogs are ones that will agree to a set of rules like Dogme film directors.  Oh, and if you have actually have a job in the industry there is a handicapping score you have to agree to as well.  AND if you’re a chef with more than one restaurant you have to let everyone else weigh in on a topic first.

 TRUDY: That’s it!  Well, great observation, and it’s a shame to see the toll that locavorism is taking on the food scene.  Just when things started getting good, did you read that piece the fucking Star did on Midwestern Cuisine? What fucked up timing.  

 TAD: Oh yeah….from Silva’s lips to Bourdain’s ears to the fat asses of the Paula Deen crowd. I am not sharing my space with those buffet behemoths on a Saturday night.

 TRUDY:  I know, I really think that the exclusivity that comes with niche dining is the only way any of us who aren’t in the industry are going to be able to get recognition IN the industry……being the best at eating food is not that hard to achieve…carving out a loyal audience of people who appreciate the unique way in which you chronicle your eating- THAT is the difficult part.

 TAD: Oh, not to interrupt, but back to that rabbit sausage water from family meal….perfect example of something we’re going to lose before it got a proper start.  You know much about Chef Grande’s new sous chef?

 TRUDY: I’ve only heard the rumors that he quit his chef position at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in order to spend the last seven years staging across the American southwest.  Oh, and that he will NOT buy a piece of cutlery outside of a garage sale.

 TAD: Yeah, very different dude, real dedication to the craft.  From an aboriginal family.

 TRUDY: I thought he was just Mexican. He just goes by Segundo.

 TAD: Wow, nice racism.

 TRUDY: Saying Mexican is racist?  I thought Aboriginal was racist….you’re supposed to say indigenous I think.

 TAD: Christ, okaaaayyyyyy…so is he an INDIGENOUS Mexican or an INDIGENOUS Australian?

 TRUDY: You ate his sausage water, I figured you’d already know that.

 TAD: HA! Totally fucking with you, I DO know….the little bastard is Australian.  But I’ve been telling everyone he’s Mexican to put them off the trail until I can blog about it.

 TRUDY: You’re pretty good.  But I don’t get the cloak and dagger over naming Segundo’s heritage.

 TAD:  He’s just a very enigmatic character.  You see his Facebook page?

 TRUDY: Yeah, that’s kind of what threw me off with his name and all, his photo is just a blank, black space.

 TAD: Ding! Ding! Ding, Matey!  He is from the old school, still thinks the camera will take his soul.

 TRUDY: VERY old school…. Very abandoned mine.

 TAD: So there’s THAT, and if you’ve ever seen him stir a risotto or a roux, you’d have noticed something very peculiar…

 TRUDY: Ohhhhh, right right right, I haven’t seen him cook but  I assume what you’re getting at is that piece you did on tribalism and the significance of handmade wooden spoons…..the whole…

 TAD: COREOLIS EFFECT!  Our little friend from the southern hemisphere only stirs to the left!

 TRUDY:  And I know he’s responsible for the latest trend in butchery and sausage making…using the dying breath of an animal to blow open the end of the casing before you thread it onto the machine.  Makes me feel really bad for Chef Grande.

 TAD: How so?

 TRUDY: I mean, he put a lot of work into getting zoning permits for that mine, and he’s bravely sticking to his guns with the fading farm to table fad, but his restaurant is pretty much over with.

 TAD: Trudy, he hasn’t even opened the restaurant yet!  They’re still busy selling out the series of soft openings! What the fuck?

 TRUDY: You’re kind of proving my point.  Already proven it actually with all of your enthusiasm for Segundo, whose first service at Second Coming was also his last.  The unknown Sous Chef IS the new Celebrity Chef.  THAT is the real trend that will put Kansas City on the map.  Terms like “ingredient-driven”, making up new names for the same old regional cuisines….that is all last-gasp material.  At one point the trend was for a chef to grow up in a smaller town, get trained and open a restaurant in a larger city that highlighted their culinary roots.  THEN you had those same people come BACK to their hometown like a king returning from battle, open a restaurant, and combine what they grew up eating with whatever they learned abroad.  We’re still in that “chefs returning home” trend, and it has hit such a point of saturation that pretty much anyone can eat stuff you only saw in the major food blogs.  When my own mother knows what sous vide is, things are getting too weird.

 TAD: I see your point, I can’t say I disagree, but…I feel kind of sick, like I’ve been set up here.

 TRUDY: I’m so sorry!  I was afraid that would happen!

 TAD: I mean, you obviously knew more than you led me to believe…

 TRUDY: I’m sorry, you were just so enthusiastic and I’ve always admired your work and level of knowledge…and now it’s like watching a dying comet.  But I mean that in a good way.

 TAD: Okay. I guess.  I just figured my focus would always allow me to predict any upcoming food movements.  I guess I got to a point where my ability to be the first to do what nobody else would be doing for another few months put me in a dangerous comfort zone…..

 TRUDY: Tad, I’m sorry, but don’t feel bad about your outdated methods. It was bound to happen eventually. But the good news is, there is a brighter world to come!

 TAD: Yeah, I trust you. It’s just a hell of a paradigm shift.  So go ahead…it is obvious you are DYING to get on with the Segundo intel……

 TRUDY: It has literally been killing me this whole time!  And I wouldn’t even know any of this if Segundo himself hadn’t walked in to my office to inquire about a graphic design for his upcoming “Real Chefs Stir to the Left” social media blitz. 

 TAD: Do tell, sensei.

 TRUDY: SO- the whole premise is based on two things: First, try to name one sous chef at any of your favorite restaurants.

 TAD: I can’t. Oh, Segundo.

 TRUDY: EXACTLY!  Being unknown or, God forbid, the “best kept secret” isn’t enough anymore…it’s over with.  Now it’s a matter of literally nobody knowing who in the fuck you are.

 TAD: But we know Segundo. WE know who he is.

 TRUDY: Obviously, and I could explain that but I was sworn to complete secrecy on most of the details…let’s just say that on opening night, as the first seating begins, Segundo is going to pass out disposable cameras and “sell his soul”.

 TAD: Hooooly shit.  Now THAT…is dedication to his art.  I mean, there was that trend where traditional Chinese chefs were cutting off their braids after reading bad Yelp reviews, but that petered out quick…there’s only a finite number of braids and hair takes so long to grow back…..ANYWAY, can you divulge the NAME of this new restaurant?

 TRUDY: SOFT OPENING!

 TAD:  The man leaves during a soft opening to open Soft Opening….totally next level stuff….

 TRUDY:  Balls-Out is the new Next Level….just FYI…you probably want to stop saying next level.

 TAD: Thanks, so anyway…enlighten me on premise NUMERO SEGUNDO!  Sorry, that was stupid, had to do it…

 TRUDY:  Second thing is really simple…the next trend is the last trend.

 TAD: Huh?

 TRUDY: The NEXT trend is whatever the trend before it was….and do NOT fucking mention this to anyone when I tell you the menu for opening night….but to illustrate the point, Segundo’s first menu is going to revolve around Gourmet Hot Dogs and Macarons using sustainable ingredients.

 TAD: Nice!  I totally get it now….wow, you can take that and run with it. 

 TRUDY: Totally. To get his point across he’s opening with a really obvious one, but I think in the fall he’s just going to make “Umami” the trend again.

 TAD: So you just keep going backwards in order to keep it fresh…..so, like, in a couple of years he could work his way BACK to doing sliders, or a noodle bar….just advertise the SHIT out of the fact he uses a local coffee roaster…

 TRUDY:  Comfort food, cupcakes, deconstruction, pine nuts, low carb…..it’s pretty endless.

 TAD: But you KNOW, at some point the food is going to get kind of shitty…and not in that “I’m making an ironic gesture towards molecular gastronomy in order to out-Achatz you” kind of way, but genuinely crappy…I mean, there is some nightmarish aspic and overcooked asparagus-laden crap when Haute Cuisine first made its way across the pond….

 TRUDY: And THAT is the process, you nailed it exactly.  The latest trend is made up of incrementally fading trends, and exclusivity for foodies becomes the desire to eat food that fewer and fewer people even give a shit about anymore. And the fact that the food starts tasting worse and more predictable with each year, really shows you who the die-hard, dedicated people are.

 TAD: Eating bad food cooked by a chef that nobody even knows about….welcome to the future, where in a few years we won’t have to sneer at being called a foodie and we know it because it’s predetermined….it’s like some kind of goddamn culinary supralapsarian genius….

 TRUDY: Shit man, you’re going to be GREAT at this…..supralapsarian….hang on to that shit, there’s not a foodie PR schmoe in the world who can compete with THAT.

 TAD: And perhaps, one day you will have to pass the role of teacher back to ME!

 TRUDY: I have to pee.

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

Leave a comment

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