Tag Archives: Kansas City

Quad Macchiato Quest 2013…

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

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

 

Broadway Café- 4106 Broadway
Coffee: Broadway Roasting Company
 

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

Oddly Correct- 3940 Main Street
Coffee: Oddly Correct
 

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

 

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

 

 
All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

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

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

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

The Squander Logs: #002

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

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

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

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

Category: Type 2

Location: Midwest

Industry: Cooking

Topic: Employees

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

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

ME:  Yeah, goes deep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

002:   Absolutely, absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ME:  People want to have your back.

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

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

002:  Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

002:  Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ME:  That is awesome!

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

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

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

ME:  Holy shit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ME:  Chicken fingers at Houston’s!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

002:  Probably Paula Deen!

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

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

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

002:  Yeah, she’d get up  on it.

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

002:  BAWLS!

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

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

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

002:  Yeah, Welch’s. God!

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

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

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

002:  He probably is.

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

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

ME:  He’s got those BAWLS!

002:  Got those BAWLS!  Paula Deen!

 

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

 

 

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Filed under Food Reviews, Interviews, Kansas City Food Scene, The Squander Logs

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

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

The Squander Logs: #001

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

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

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

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

Category: Type 1

Location: Midwest

Industry: Cooking

Topic: Foodies

ME:  It’s a Saturday night, you’re on the line, Friday was exceptionally brutal, you’re hungover and down a person. It’s around 7:30.  A server comes up to you and looks a little pissed off and they’re like “I just had a table of eight insist that I come and tell the chef WE’RE FOODIES!!!”. What’s your thought process?

001:  Well, first of all I don’t like that term. I do not like that term. To me it’s a dead term. Cause anyone who watches food network these days is a fucking foodie. Anybody.  Anybody who goes and critiques Applebees on Yelp is a fucking foodie.

ME: Yep

001:  So with that being said, I would say alright, I’m glad they’re here to enjoy the food I’m going to make, but at the same time I’m not going to go out of my way to do anything special for them.  I mean, I think you should treat everyone the same that comes in that door. Regardless if it’s someone who has saved for 2 months to go eat at the restaurant or someone who says “let’s go get some snacks”.  I don’t think anybody deserves any special treatment. I mean, if Thomas Keller came in today I’d be like “Wow, You’re Awesome!”, but I’ve got to get back to doing my job.

ME: I’d agree, I think your reputation isn’t built on treating anyone special, it’s consistency in everything you do.

001:  Absolutely

ME:  As far as foodies go, and I’m not a fan of that term, but it’s kind of a default term to use.  But being in that group, as someone who is not a professional, I’m curious to hear where YOU think the line is between someone who has a genuine love for food and somebody who just has a weird, OCD-like compulsion to collect food related data, compete for blog readership…

001:  I think the main difference is that if someone is truly into food and someone who loves food, they’re not going to go around saying “this was complete shit”, they’re not looking for attention for themselves they’re simply going to try what this person is doing. And if they’re going to truly call themselves a foodie, in my mind, that means they should like everything….and not just say “I don’t eat there because the drinks are just okay”, I mean, you go for the whole atmosphere. Someone who truly appreciates and knows where the food comes from.

ME: Not China Star Buffet Yelp reviewers.

001:  Exactly. Exactly!   Knowing where your food comes from is key in my mind. And you can call yourself a foodie all you want to, but deep down if you don’t even know who’s cooking your food….

ME: With that in mind…Bourdain, love him or hate him, he’s done a lot to communicate about the mad brigade of cooks back in the kitchen, and there is that clique of people in the industry who work the opposite hours of everyone else in close quarters and the camaraderie that that creates….and you have a lot of foodies who may try to seek legitimacy via the people they know at a restaurant, the amount of money they spend, or knowing pieces of industry, or gossip, but they “Never served in Vietnam”, so when it comes to their input, thoughts and opinions on how you do, or should do, your job, how much weight do they carry?

001:  I take everyone’s opinion to heart.  I am a firm believer that you can learn from everyone. So if one person comes up and says “You know what? I think it would be better like THIS”, I will think about it. Off the cuff I may be like “okay, you’re cute, just move along…unless you do this everyday you’re just a guest.” I appreciate that, but you may not necessarily know everything that goes into it, so how are you going to tell me it would be better like this?

ME: It’s funny you bring that up, because I have the tendency to be TOO protective.  If someone came up and said “So and so should do THIS to a dish”, depending on how they came across I’d have the tendency to react worse than the cook in question.  It’s stupidly protective, and I guess that’s not really a question, more just me wanting to hear my own rambling on the topic.

001:  And that’s fine, being loyal to somewhere,  that’s all that we work for. There’s a reason why someone works 70 hours and only gets paid for 45 or 50. We work a lot of hours off the clock, because we’re loyal to that person that’s above us. If someone says something about that person, I’m super, super defensive. If someone says something about the food, of course I’m going to be super defensive.  We kill ourselves for a reason.

ME: In your experience, have you worked for chefs that have your back when it comes to a critic or customer coming after you, and have you worked for some that have leaned on the side of kissing ass?

001:  Well, anymore nowadays it’s so fickle with Facebook  and Yelp and Opentable. Anyone is a reviewer today. Everyone has an opinion, and they should, I get that.  But, I think people are using the internet TOO much now.  The same person that gives said restaurant a 2 star Yelp review will give the gas station a five star because the oil service was fantastic. FANTASTIC!  And so I’ve been fortunate to work for people that will always stick up for the gentlemen that work for them, because I’ve always worked for people who have been there and done that and know how hard it is, you know?  And that means a lot. I know that I may mess up sending out something horrible, and I get that, and I”ll probably get my ass chewed for it. But at the end of the day, if anything is ever sent back it’s never automatically, “what in the fuck did you do?” it’s “what didn’t they like about it?”.  Tell me that so I can fix it.

ME: I think that is something that’s created by reality tv, like fuckin’ Gordon Ramsay screaming and throwing shit at people, going nuts. I think a lot of foodies have the assumption that is the way kitchens are.  It’s like they are expecting a show.

001:  Absolutely!

ME: Speaking of social media…with as much as I try to visit restaurants, and the number of people I meet and blogs and reviews I read, I see what I perceive as a lot of people who are pretty picky and humorless who just want to say “this makes me a foodie”….do you think there is a percentage of people these days that you run into that don’t really LIKE food?

001:  It’s more of a social status, so that they can check into their favorite place on Facebook and everbody goes , “Oh WOW! Glad to see THEM there!”.

ME: Speaking of that, I don’t want to call it a parasitic relationship because that’s way too harsh and doesn’t fit, but helpful vs. annoying…social media helps you but at the same time it curses you.

001:  Oh, absolutely it helps you!  If you think you’re doing something to the best of your ability, that this is fucking phenomenal…”I’m sending this out great every time!”…and five, six, seven bad reviews come in on either Yelp or Opentable, you kind of have to take that to heart because that means that you’re doing something wrong. You’re not cooking that properly. Or, maybe my dining room IS fucking gross. You know, something like that. Okay, there’s something I didn’t see. And that goes back to the fact that I take everyone’s opinion to heart.

 (Redacted rambling where I bemoan the fact that I really need to work on my interview skills)

ME:  There is kind of a push towards monetization of every aspect of the food industry specific to the social media we’ve been talking about, and it seems to lean towards people with near zero practical experience within the industry who wake up and reinvent themselves as a foodie or a chef….”Hey, I’ve got a background in PR or marketing, ba-da-BOOM, there you go, there’s money to be made!”.  How do you see that type of phenomenon benefitting or hurting the industry?

001:  Regardless of social media having an impact on that or not, there’s always people out there who go “You know what, I think I’m going to open up a restaurant”, and they could be in marketing as you said, and they just don’t get it. I’ve definitely worked for people like that, who have no idea, they have no restaurant experience. They may have been a bartender years ago, but they think they get it.  And so, they don’t take the time to realize that if you’re a well oiled machine you make a nickel off of every dollar. Profit.  If you are really, reeallly good, you make a nickel off of every dollar that comes in, after lights, employee costs, insurance, a nickel. And those are the types of restaurants that usually kind of fail out and die because they get frustrated and they don’t see the return so quickly, so they don’t try to build value and build a reputation.  I mean, for the first years you’re going to lose money. You’re going to.

ME:  In the best case scenario.

001:  Absolutely.

ME: Okay, you have fans, you have the people who love you, and you have people with money, notoriety, either real or imagined…friends, customers, regulars….I’m always curious to what level people try to lay claim to a chef or a restaurant.  I have a tendency to hang back, that’s just my personal rule.  On a Saturday night, no matter how much I know or love a chef, I will never approach the kitchen, that is bad form.  You see people come in who do not live by that code…..the first place they head for is the kitchen.

001:  They want to go and say hi so they can look cool. Now, I can see if it’s a legitimate friend and you haven’t seen this dude in forever. At the same time, you need to realize it’s a Saturday night and you probably shouldn’t be bothering them. BUT, everyone does it.  I recently went on a little vacation. Went and visited a friend. Me and two other people, we went to a GOOD restaurant, and we were all pretty drunk. I hadn’t seen this person in probably six months, so we went and tied one on before we went to a really well known and respected restaurant.We sat down, the waiter came over and we ordered drinks, the waiter came back and asked if we had time to look at a menu.  I was like “No, haven’t really had time yet”, and one of my friends goes “Three Chefs!  Impress us!”. And right then I’m like “You have got to be fucking kidding me. You have GOT to be kidding me.”

ME: (laughter) Oh my god, that is painful!

001:  The server just goes “heh”.  And like I said, this is a nationally known restaurant, they are getting to be big time now, so…

ME: “Gee, we’ve never had chefs!”

001:  They’re thinking..you’re cute!  You guys are cute!

ME: That kind of goes back to my WE’RE FOODIES”

001:  Exactly, yeah!  I’m just sitting there going OH MY GOD….no, don’t do that….that’s the one thing you don’t do.

ME: That brings up a side point…how careful are you of the people you go to eat with?  Do you have a set group you’ll go to a nice restaurant with, or when you’re travelling?

001:  Most of my friends aren’t in the industry. They don’t know about it.  They’re nurses or carpenters, just regular hard working people, and so they are at a point where Houlihan’s is a great meal out.  And you know what, that’s fine.

ME: It’s familiar.

001:  It’s familiar, it’s easy, for the most part, it’s okay…it’s a step up from Applebees that’s for damn sure.  Being a cook, I don’t get that much time off, so when I do spend my time of I usually don’t go out to eat. If I do I go to a bar I get bar food. Because that’s what I want when I go out. I’m usually drinking.

ME: That seems to be the norm as far as that goes.

001:  It’s one of those things….we deal with food every day…so nine times out of ten I’m not going to want go spend 150 dollars because I know damn good and well that food didn’t cost 150 dollars.

ME: The only reason I brought that up is because I’m really weird about vetting people. When I go out to a nice dinner,  the people are as important to the experience as the food.

001:  Absolutely, and along those lines I can’t remember a time when I went out with more than three people.  I mean, I don’t have that many friends on the given Tuesday I have off where we’re going to sit down at an eight top.  I don’t have that many friends, I don’t, I work in a kitchen and most of my friends I see once every six months…found out a friend of mine had a baby Didn’t know that!

ME: That’s funny because I’m having a birthday party at a restaurant here in town and was coming up with a guest list going “Holy shit, do I even have enough friends to have a party?”.

001:  I get that!

ME: Okay, we’ve already covered all the foodie shit, but I had this long thing written down about whether foodie is a relevant term or is it kind of like someone just now discovering “That’s what she said” and you’re torn between lighting a candle or cursing their darkness.

001:  Yeah, and like I said, I’m not a fan of the term, but I’m not a fan of the term “chef” either. I think it’s a derogatory term because, in my opinion, six out of ten chefs are non-working chefs.  I’m lucky and have been fortunate enough to have worked for very hard working and very good cooks who are there every freakin’ day and love what they do, and that makes my job so much easier.  But, most chefs, in my opinion, don’t work.  They leave it to the guys in the kitchen and they’re like “I’ve done my due…I’ll come in at two! See you guys at two!”

ME: Or, they have a bunch of restaurants…Mall of America, Las Vegas…

001:  Exactly!  If you’ think you’re going to see Gordon Ramsay at one of his restaurants, you’re freaking insane. You’re insane.  That man is too busy with all of his publicity bullshit…don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the guy’s a great cook. There’s a reason why he’s gotten this far.  But I think, in MY own opinion, I think people get away from that and think “I’m a good fuckin’ cook”…well, you were a good cook fifteen years ago, NOW you’ve just been riding on your name.  And you still have the ideas, but can you do them on a day to day basis?  No. And this is a hard enough business as it is, you don’t need to get the egos involved.

ME: That brings up another foodie trend….I know people who if they had the chance wouldn’t eat at a Gordon Ramsay restaurant because you’re either not guaranteed a Gordon sighting, or it’s no longer a COOL place because he’s on tv.  But, to your point, he got popular for a reason.

001:  He’s a Michelin star chef, absolutely.

ME: I had some hesitation a few years ago about whether or not to eat at Gary Danko when I was in San Francisco, until a good friend of mine was like “Hey dumbass, yeah, I know it’s popular and stuff, but the food is phenomenal”.  And it was.

001:  And just because it’s popular doesn’t mean the food is going to be BAD.  Places like The Big Biscuit and Houlihan’s are packed every day.

ME: Yeah they are.

001:  Every day….it doesn’t mean their food is phenomenal, it doesn’t mean it’s shit either.  It just means it’s close to where you live, they have great prices,  and anymore nowadays it’s hard to feed a family of four.

ME: Even if you cook mediocre food, if you’re consistent with that mediocre food you’ll get a following to some degree. I mean, I’m unashamed about my love for Red Lobster.  Once a year, I’ve gotta have it.  Is it great? No, but it’s consistent.  It tastes exactly like it did when I was twelve years old.

001:  And the thing is, people legitimately love mediocre food.

ME: Yeah!

001:  They legitimately love mediocre food. Or else we wouldn’t have restaurants like Applebee’s.

ME: To your point from earlier, are you gonna go out and eat a fuckin’ foie gras terrine on a Monday, on your day off?  Fuck no, you’re going to go have a burger.

001:  I went to Blue Koi today. Good dumplings.

ME: Vietnam Café is like a standard. Boom.

001:  Absolutely

ME: And to me it’s just as legitimate, just as good, and I look just as forward to going there as a lot of the higher end places in town.

001:  And I would much rather go there, because I’m not going to spend 150 when I could spend twenty. And just enjoy yourself.

ME: Everything about it is good.

001: And you know you’re going to go there and have a good time.

ME: Okay, all that shit was just a lead up, I wouldn’t have you here unless I was going to get into some juicier aspects of this industry of yours.   Setting up the theme for the next segment…..I’m not out to use anonymity as a platform for personal attacks or to talk about who is fucking who’s wife and where you can find photos….one less scandalous but still interesting tale of late in this town has to do with a chef who has been accused of selling choice beef as prime in an earlier restaurant.  If that is true, is there any type of gentleman’s agreement among cooks and restaurateurs not to out them and blow them out of the water?

001:  Well…I think as a cook, for a diner who like I mentioned may have saved for two months to eat at your restaurant, you have to say what is on your menu. And with the fickle social media out there, you cannot be caught publicly outing another restaurant. You can’t. That makes your place look absolutely horrible. HORRIBLE!  So, it would be one of those things where IN-house, absolutely, it would be like…”Are you fucking kidding me?  Did you hear about that motherfucker?  Are you serious?  Seriously? Why don’t they just up and buy it if they’re going to charge people for it?  Just buy it.”

ME: Is there a point at which the disdain for a local chef is going to start to bleed out, either from a restaurant directly or via emissaries who have a blog and can do the dirty work for you?

001:  Well, it’s one of those things that isn’t really talked about, but is just common knowledge.  There are definitely things out there, and I’m not calling out names, but…there’s a James Beard award winning chef in town that no cook would be caught dead at this person’s restaurant.  Because WE know, and if anyone on the street were to ask me?  Absolutely.  But would I ever say, at the place that I work, F THAT place?  No. Because that’s just bad.

ME: I guess there is a standard that you set for yourself because A) you look like a bigger douche than the person doing the deed if you out them, and B) the damage you would do in bursting people’s bubbles…because these chefs have a following, and one person who comes to mind, possibly the same one you’re talking about, has a VERY large and loyal following and has for a very long time.  SO to say something about them in a public arena….you’re going to lose business by proxy.

001: You’re going to look like a jackass…like HOW DARE YOU?  Mountain out of a mole hill.

ME: With blogs and whatnot, there are a lot of people who die for that type information….because we’re turning everything into a KC Confidential type thing…I mean, how cool would it be to become the Kansas City Perez Hilton of the food community? Granted, that would NOT be a cool thing to be…but how much of THAT annoyance do you guard against…..keeping your mouth shut around people who may try to gain contrived readership?

001:  Luckily, the position I’m in, nobody really listens to me or talks to me, I just happen to be there. So my opinion isn’t shit, and that’s kind of where I want to keep it. Because I do believe…loose lips sink ships, I’m a firm believer in that. Now, I have been known to talk some shit every now and again, but I keep it in-house.

ME:  And I respect that, I mean, I know chefs who have gone out of their way to blast other chefs and I basically lose respect….

001:  It just makes them look bad!  Oh, look at THAT! TATTLING! TATTLING! TATTLING!  Just realize that you’re better than the other place…and maybe it goes back to people liking mediocre food.  You’re never going to get them away from going to said restaurant just because you say something, they’re just going to look at you and go “I guess I’m not eating at your fucking spot!”

ME:  It kind of goes back to your point about consistency in treating everyone the same and not kissing specific asses…the same can be said for the consistency in not taking advantage of opportunities to do damage.  The loudest critics seem to have the shortest shelf lives, some of the same people fall multiple times and don’t learn.

001:  And this is public knowledge….Michael and Debbie….they are both VERY good about not saying anything about each other, but will they be caught dead in the same room?  Noooo.  They do that for a reason. THEY know that they are people that their opinion matters and people look forward to them.  And they are both great cooks.

ME:  I think there is a term for that….it’s called mutually assured destruction!

001: Absolutely! I mean, if one person starts the fire, burn that motherfucker DOWN!

ME:  And even if the reason for peace is selfish to some degree, the result is something I really, really respect.

001:  Yeah!

ME: Okay, I’m new at this whole thing without much of an idea how to switch things up, so as far as discussion I kind of just have to say, NEXT UP, going to go with stuff worthy of the most mundane blogs that I’ll probably just call GRATUITOUS SHIT!   So……FOOD ALLERGIES!  Real, or just another way to be a controlling asshole who should probably eat somewhere else?

001:  (Laughing) Umm…I fully understand food allergies, but a lot of times I think it is just another reason for people to say they don’t like something.  “I’m allergic to garlic!”…you eat onions, right? Well…..now, shellfish, people die from that. Unless you are absolutely sure you have an allergy, just say you don’t want any.

ME: I talked to a chef last night who had someone tell him they were allergic to black pepper…after eating at the restaurant for years and eating black pepper.

001:  Yeah, see, that’s bullshit.

ME:  Exactly, and it’s just an annoyance to me, when  I talk about my vetting process, picky people….

001:  Oh, they’re annoying as fuck.

ME: I’m not saying you gotta eat all the offal, I’m just saying don’t sit here and recreate a fucking dish on a Saturday night.

001:  And that’s my thing, I understand people’s preferences, but say someone puts up a menu item and the guest comes in and says “That sounds great, but I can I put broccoli and mashed potatoes on it?”….go fuck yourself, eat at home.

ME: Next gratuitous thing…Is there anything you get tired of cooking and wish would go away, or a trend?

001:  As far as that goes, I’m not really tired of cooking anything yet. There are definitely techniquest I don’t agree with…..I think over-manipulated food is something that NEEDS to be there, but do I want to go and have a spoonful of air? No,  I’d rather have a spoon of mashed potatoes.

ME: Deconstruction is the first thing that comes to mind.

001:  Yeah, “I’ve got a deconstructed Caesar salad!”….so you’ve got a whole egg, an anchovy, lemon, garlic on a plate? Now THAT’S a fucking deconstructed salad. Do I want that?  Noooo……

ME: I’ve got a deconstructed Caprese salad at home…the shit is still growing on my deck.

001:  DECONSTRUCTED!  I do think that those places are there for a reason, I mean, El Bulli was amazing….I never got to EAT there…

ME: Me neither.

001:  But, those places, that guy was THE top chef in the world for years because he had a team of scientists breaking shit down and he was at the forefront….because he’s that crazy….he can just sit there and think of shit. And god bless him for that, but fuck ME, do I want to go and have 39 one bite courses? No.

ME: Even with that level of popularity, you are talking about the most impractical business model on the planet, you gotta be pretty liquid….”Okay!  Gonna shut down for nine months every year to retool…then I’ll let forty people in every night for three months, and then fuck all y’all, see you next year!”

Ah, here we go, word association…I’ll say a word and you tell me the first thing that comes to mind……YELP!

001:  Fuck it.

ME:  Good answer.  Here’s one that I thought of on the way over actually…I’m a big believer in loyalty to people who cook my food, serve my food….and because I interface with them the most- my server.  I will live and die with the same server as long as they work there, and I like to tip well.  Now, different interview for a different day, don’t want to get into front vs. back of house issues, but what is a good gesture for the back of the house?  715 in Lawrence lets you buy a six pack for the kitchen….what’s a good gesture?

001:  Honestly, that is a GREAT idea, I like that idea.  There is a restaurant in Canada, can’t remember the name but there’s a dvd where I work and we were watching it, having some beers, and it’s a restaurant where at any given time during service a guest can buy a round of shots for the kitchen. They ding a bell, the kitchen has to stop, doesn’t matter if it’s 8pm on a Saturday, they stop service, take a shot, get back to work.

ME:  WOW!

001:  That’s intense.

ME:  Is there a limit?  I mean, if Richie Rich comes in…..

001:  I’m sure they’re allowed two per night or something…

ME:  I would want to hit that limit. I would want to have the deep pockets to cause mayhem.

001:  I guarantee…no chef wants his kitchen staff drunk.

ME: I’d like to see it!

001:  Yeah.

ME: Alright, right now in Kansas City….one dish, one place, what’s good and what do you recommend?

001:  Extra Virgin had some duck tongue tacos.  I haven’t been there in a while, but they were fucking good.

ME:  Good and seasoned.

001:  They were fucking GOOD! That’s one thing that was legitimately one of the best things I’ve had in a very long time. So simple it’s stupid, duck tongue tacos!

ME:  They’re great.  A lot of people say they’re too salty, but I say fuck you, I come from the Mario Batali school of salt the shit out of everything.

001:  I smoke, so they were just dandy to me!

ME:  OKAY last thing I have for you….we’re starting to get into the good stuff at the markets this time of year, so….is there one type of produce you’d pick to be in season year-round if you had one wish?

001:  Ramps.

ME: Ramps?  Yeah, they aren’t available long and they’re so good.

001:  They’re SO good.

ME: And there’s so much you can do with them.

001:  Absolutely, you can pickle them, roast them, grill them, they’re awesome.  One thing I know everyone wants is morels. I personally don’t like morels.

ME: I like them, but you know, come on man. How much can you eat?  It’s kind of like truffles. I like them, but unless you’re going to have a whole goddamn shaved truffle on top of something, what’s the point?

001:  To me a truffle tastes like cardboard. I don’t like truffles, I don’t like truffle oil…it’s so overused, truffle FRIES piss me OFF.

ME: I don’t like truffle oil, to me it has a chemical aftertaste.

001:  IT’s because on the ingredient list it says “truffle essence”…what the fuck is truffle essence?

ME: They probably created it at El Bulli.  Truffle essence….it didn’t make the menu. That’s where all their money comes from now!

001:  Fucking truffle oil!

ME: They sell the shittiest truffle oil.

001:  God bless them for doing that!

ME: Ferran Adria sells the shittiest truffle oil in the world!  And that’s how he bankrolls his enterprise.

001:  Can’t blame him for that!

All Content Copyrighted, 2008, 2012

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Filed under Interviews, The Squander Logs

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

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

Best Food of 2011…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Best Storyline”- Port Fonda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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