Pangea: 900 W 39th St – CLOSED

 Posted by at 12:17 am
Oct 172008

UPDATE: Fat City reports that Pangea is closing at the end of December 2008

Ever since I started blogging, folks have been telling me to hit up 39th street eatery Pangea. I have been putting it off however because it is located in that tacky, newish strip mall which just seems so out of character for the neighborhood. It’s also down closer to SW trafficway than the heart of the 39th street restaurant scene. If I go to that area, I usually opt for a place closer to the state line.

But this place has specialized in lunch and lunch only for several years. That makes it hard for me to ignore. Of course, they started serving dinner recently and after my trip there, I think this is a good move for them. But they offer interesting, decent food and have a nice business of lunchtime regulars.

First of all, this place is purty.

Okay well it is a little too shabby chic for my taste–not in a charming, do-it-yourself way like Happy Gillis, but more like an I-spent-ten-grand-at-World-Market kind of way.

But you have to admit that it is still a pleasant space with a soothing color scheme. Naturally that made me worried.

A chalkboard hanging above the counter displays the lunch menu. I’m not sure if the menu actually changes or if the ephemeral medium is merely an aesthetic move. There is a lot to choose from and it’s a hard decision. Why hard? Because you can’t wrap your head around what is going on. I imagined Pangea to be a soup and sandwich kind of place, but its menu is all over the map. Represented cuisines include Irish, Argentinian, Mediterranean, Italian, Jamaican and Thai. If that isn’t enough they offer three soups, four salads, a full dessert menu and of course the ubiquitous panini sandwiches.

Anyhow, you order at the counter, pay and sit down. At this point an employee comes out and brings you silverware and a napkin. That’s a nice touch I suppose. They also come pick up your dishes when you are finished. It’s like table service only without all the annoying stuff that involves communicating with people. People can be so irritating.

Due to a near caffeine overdose, I was not overly hungry so I opted for the chicken panini with Artichoke spread, thin sliced red onion & tomato on Ciabatta Bread. I have to say that I would try something else next time, but only because aforementioned artichoke spread was distinctly reminiscent of mayonnaise.

Have I ever mentioned how much I loathe mayonnaise?

Anyhow, I’m going back to try one of the so-called small plates for lunch. The people around me were getting some seriously delicious stuff delivered to them while I meditated to my happy, mayonnaise-free mental space and dutifully ate my $8.50 sandwich. It came with a damn good little salad too, dressed with homemade balsamic vinaigrette, which at this point I think you could call a guilty pleasure.

Pangea is a little expensive I suppose. I’m normally looking for table service if I’m gonna pay upwards of 15 bucks for a meal (which you can easily do here). But it’s not a total scam like The Mixx. And they have beer and wine available for all you drunkards out there (I know pot, kettle, all that jazz).

I’m not usually a fan of menus that are this varied, but I think Pangea might be on to something. I need to make many more visits to confirm this, but I’ll bet almost all of it is tasty. And that’s the point: this is the kind of menu that keeps you coming back to try more. If they make a damn good gnocchi, why not go back for the pad thai? All my friends who are good cooks can make any kind of food taste great.

I don’t have much else to say at this point but I wanted to get Pangea on the map here. If y’all have eaten here, tell me what’s good.

Read more:

Pangea Cafe & Market on Urbanspoon


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Pizza 51: 5060 Oak St

 Posted by at 1:25 pm
Aug 042008

Boy these people were smart. Owners Jason and Shannon Pryor have only been in business four years but, with new UMKC dorms opening up and a dearth of good food and drink options within walking distance, they seem like geniuses for opening up Pizza 51 at Oak and 51st.

This stretch of 51st street (between Oak and Brookside Boulevard) is the only commercial “district” that caters to a college clientele in the slightest. Kin Lin is a few doors down, as is a Subway and Muddy’s Coffee house. Main street has a few things to pique the interest of your average college student–Eggcetera (owner of the stupidest name in the metro, not counting hair salons), The Peanut, Minsky’s and of course Planet Sub, who recently tore down their entire building in order to build a brand new one right next to it. Dumbasses. There is also a CVS pharmacy at which college students can procure much needed Bush light, hair dye and birth control products.

Yet with the exception of Muddy’s, Pizza 51 is the joint that feels most like a college neighborhood hangout. A lot of students work there, and certainly a lot of them eat there too. I always see younger professorial types hanging out as well, drinking pitchers of boulevard until 8:30pm when their kids need to be put to bed. The space is a converted gas station, but very bright in the interior thanks to a wall of overhead doors facing Oak Street. Like many rehabs, it tends to get noisy when crowded, which is most weekend evenings. For lunch, it’s a much more casual affair.

This place is open 7 days a week at least until 10 p.m. (9 p.m. in Winter). And believe it or not, their pizza is good. I wouldn’t characterize it as gourmet, but it certainly is freshly prepared, has a nice crust and some high-quality toppings.

At most places, pizza is hard to do for lunch. First, you have to be sure that a place sells slices. If not, you have to wrangle a coworker or two into splitting a pizza with you. So you are either going to eat a slice that has been sitting under a heat lamp or you are going to wait a while for a fresh pie. Even Whole Foods, who offers really good slices, pre-bakes them and re-heats upon ordering. Not at Pizza 51.

Here’s the deal. You can get a slice here any time of day, with any toppings you want. How do they do it? Well Each slice is made to order of course. Slices start at $3 but they are huge, like as big as your head huge. They arrive on metal trays designed for entire pizzas. These slices are so big that they cross-cut them into rectangular sub-slices. You know those crappy pennants you get for free at sporting events? Now you got the idea.

So, think about these slices more like individual pizzas, even though they are decidedly triangular. Go ahead and spend a few bucks on toppings–you won’t be hungry. You can get 5 toppings on a slice for 5.51 which seems like a decent deal. They also have daily lunch specials which is usually a modest break on price for a particular slice and drink.

My only complaint is that the pizza tends to be slightly undercooked as a rule. Not in a disgusting, raw way, but the cheese is not sufficiently brown and the crust tends to be sloppy and limp, because it is a thinner crust than most. So when i go, I tend to order mine ‘well done’ and typically this solves the problem.\

They have other stuff on the menu–subs, calzones, and (ugh) wraps–but I don’t usually bother so ask someone else how they are. I know for a fact that the salads are typical pizza place affairs: iceberg lettuce, pre-made in a plastic container with shredded cheese and premade croutons as toppings. Add a healthy dollop of sysco salad dressing from a gallon jug and you’re in business. Or not.

Everything is ordered from the front counter and delivered to your table when it is ready. Pizza slices can take longer to come out to your table because they are not pre-baked, but you can get in and out of Pizza 51 in a half hour easily. The location of the counter is a little odd and can get cramped when there is a line. It would be nice if this place changed to table service for dinner, since most people are getting whole pies and drinks.

There is a decent concrete patio enclosed by a cast iron fence. It feels a little like a cage since you can only enter and exit through the restaurant. But it can seat as many or more people than the interior. With the newly established smoking ban in full effect, expect it to be moderately stinky at certain hours. If it stays this hot, you won’t want to be out there anyway.

So kudos for the solid business plan, available slices and tasty pizza. Not the most remarkable place in the world, but a welcome addition to the neighborhood and one that I tend to visit with some regularity. I also like that they creatively re-purposed an interesting existing structure. Hear that Planet Sub?

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Pizza 51 on Urbanspoon


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Jul 292008

I’ve been putting this review off for a couple of days because I’ve been thinking of a creative way to make fun of the name.

photo by Mike Haney

I got nothing.

Yeah, it’s actually a pretty good name isn’t it? I’m pretty sure they picked the name just because the domain name was available. It is fun to say “BIG BAM’S” – even fun to write it in my own inimitable hamhanded style. Kind of like CANCUN FIESTA FRESH! This one’s a little more dangerous since I’m overwhelmed with the urge to execute an unskilled but highly performative karate chop whenever I say it: BIG BAM’S!Moreover the items on the kids menu are called Li’l Bam’s burger and Li’l Bam’s chicken tenders. Preface anything with “Li’l” and it’s guaranteed to be cute.

Of course, if the name in any way refers to Emeril Lagasse, it immediately becomes the worst name of all time.

From the exterior, this place looks a little rough around the edges doesn’t it? The building and bones of the place are pretty low-brow, but they have done a great job sprucing up the place. Walls are painted a subdued purple, the drop ceiling is painted black to lessen the cheap, institutional feel it can lend. There is some artwork on the walls which, despite having no connection to burgers or KC, is better than nothing. The tables and booths are typical formica fast food furniture, but look clean and new and are (if memory serves) a pleasant orange. Yeah, a lot of color going on here no?

It’s a reasonably efficient operation. Order at a counter, your food is made to order, and someone brings it out to you. The menu is posted on the wall above the counter so ordering involves a lot of staring upwards and squinting. It would make more sense to make printed menus available at the counter and leave the staring for the people waiting in line.

On to the burgers. They remind me a little of the Burger Joint. I ordered the “Basic” because this seems like the true test of a place that claims to have great burgers. The Basic came with a single tomato slice, some flaccid leaf lettuce, sliced white onion, and a nice melted piece of American cheese. I have had the “All-American” a number of times and found it to be an excellent, classic burger, topped with American cheese, pickles and onions.

All-American and fries

The burger is cooked well, the beef is very flavorful, the bun is unremarkable but fine as are the toppings. Next time I can rectify the toppings situation–I ordered the Basic, did I expect a can o’ corn on top of my burger? They have several varieties of specialty burgers a few of which sound intriguing. For instance the “Cowboy Up” burger features ham, cheddar cheese and BBQ sauce. Hmmmm, ham. A couple of their burgers come with sour cream as a condiment. I’m not sure how I feel about this but it can’t be worse than mayonnaise. There are some typical permutations like bacon & cheese, grilled onions, chili cheese (!) and sauteed mushrooms.

In addition to burgers, Big Bam’s does a lot with chicken. It’s nice that they don’t offer breaded and fried chicken exclusively–there are a few grilled options. Big Bam’s has a commitment to high quality ingredients–their beef is never frozen and food is made to order. So I wonder if they hand-bread their fried chicken items or pull them out of a paper Sysco bag? This is a serious question, and I intend to order chicken next time I’m there. Or better yet, someone else go there, spend your own money, then tell me how it is. Check out the menu, there is a lot to choose from.

I also had a small but inexpensive side of onion rings that were delicious and perfectly cooked. Doesn’t it drive you crazy when fries cost like 1.50 and onion rings cost 5 bucks? You know why? Because the restaurant is buying them frozen and there is a lot more processing and production that goes into a batter-dipped frozen onion than a bag-o-taters. Breading and onions are not expensive, so personally I find it a good sign that the rings at Big Bam’s are the same price as the fries! Kudos on the rings Big Bam’s!

I did enjoy myself at Big Bam’s and am convinced they do burgers and other things quite well. In terms of taste, this lunch spot is comparable to most of the other competent, humble little burger places in town. I think it could probably use the business more than wacko right wing Jesus-freaks Grandstand, and it is larger and nicer inside than Burger Joint. It’s all about a quick meal here, so I genuinely like the place and will return.

Read more:

Big Bam's Burgers on Urbanspoon

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Jul 232008

Well, the tamales here blow the lid off any I’ve had anywhere else in Kansas City. It’s clear just from driving through this small stretch of Kansas City, Kansas that this is the area to go for the real deal.

I’ve always known that, but I just never got off my ass and went to KCK explicitly to eat Mexican food. This will change as of today.

An esteemed colleague of mine introduced me to Ninfa’s under the assumption that everyone knew about the place and their fantastic homemade flour tortillas.

“Where?” I asked, “Ninja’s? Who eats flour tortillas at a Mexican place?”

This widespread ignorance among my coworkers and me was soon rectified with a departmental outing to Ninfa’s under the tutelage of this wise, wise man.

Ninfa’s is small and simply decorated. Bright orange walls, large ceramic tile, a semi-open kitchen at one end and some decent-sized windows looking on to the street create a homey atmosphere that offsets the small size and relative cacophony of the dining area.

I hesitate to call Ninfa’s a “dive” because the word is vaguely insulting unless

1. You are referring to a bar, in which case it is a badge of honor.
2. It’s really, undeniably true.

“Dive” is not a word to be thrown around lightly. Some jackass on Yelp or somewhere referred to Oklahoma Joe’s as a dive. Right…the gas station thing, I get it. You know they have Subways and Pizza Huts and other places in gas stations nowadays too? Ever been to, I don’t know, a REST AREA? Seriously OK Joe’s looks like a Mall food court with really delicious food and a lot of white people.

Anyway, Ninfa’s is shacky but delightful. The menu is pretty large, but not the usual multipage tome you see at other Mexican places of dubious quality. This place is all about their homemade tortillas. Before your meal, a container of freshly made flour tortillas are brought to the table. Apparently that is what the bright blue bottle of squeezable Parkay is on the table for. This makes sense; in Chicago Mexican street vendors would put margarine on corn they sold from carts. That or mayonnaise (I think I just vomited a little, sorry).

These tortillas bear little resemblance to the dry, flaky discs that come in the Old El Paso package at the Price Chopper. Ninfa’s tortillas are moist, a little chewy and warm. I like the margarine option well enough, but a squirt or two of their salsa seems to be the better option.

A lot of menu items at Ninfa’s are fried. This isn’t unusual for Kansas City, but here it’s a much different affair. The meats are tender, flavorful and well-seasoned. Most of the food appears to be on the greasy side, but don’t let that stop you from ordering up a fried corn taco plate or whatever grabs your fancy. I opted for tamales spread, which was covered with cheese and stewed pork.

It was porktacular in the best possible way.

The flavor was not subtle but also not pedestrian in any way. You can tell a lot of care went into the preparation of these delights. Do yourself a favor and get a dozen to-go sometime, a bargain at $14.

The rice was odd–very short grain, and mixed with a tomato-y sauce. This gave it a somewhat mushy texture but I didn’t mind the flavor. I do prefer a simply, nuttier Mexican rice.

The service is great, Ninfa’s has the appearance of being a family-run business though I don’t know if it actually is. To add to the home-spun mystique, there is a truly charming, friendly and vaguely unintelligible older woman (Abuela Ninfa?) who seats people, gets drink refills, wipes down tables, cracks jokes; Basically she makes the place work. Our waitress was a 14-ish year old girl who, despite her age was nonetheless quite adept.

Apart from a couple places on Southwest Boulevard, this is my first foray into Mexican food in KCK proper. It won;t be my last. Ninfa’s is truly unique for cranking out those really good fresh tortillas everyday. It really raises the quality and fun of the food and the experience.

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Ninfa's Tortillas & Taqueria on Urbanspoon


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Jun 022008

After parking, walking up and inside the Woodyard BBQ I was ready to declare it the King of all Kansas City Lunch Spots. I had heard about this place for a long time, but only recently figured out what the actual name was and where it was located. Well, it turns out to be right down Merriam Lane a bit from Grandstand in that interesting semi-industrial area where Wyandotte and Johnson Counties run together.

Basically the Woodyard is a humble barbecue operation run out of the bottom floor of a semi-dilapidated house on the South side of Merriam Lane. The place doubles as a literal woodyard, and the parking lot is basically a big gravel pit surrounded by piles of various kinds of chopped wood. The owner waved at us as we drove in. People were parked every which way, redneck style.

As we walked up the steps to a good sized wooden deck we were greeted by the owner who was fiddling around with some wood or something. We were also greeted by a gigantic brick smoker, puffing out great clouds of deliciosity right there next to the seating, which is on the deck. There is a small room with a counter through the front door. That’s where the ordering and condimenting happens. There is a cooler where you can grab the beverage of your choice and a small selection of cheap domestic beers (and corona) available cheaply. My meal came with my choice of drink, and apparently, that includes beer. Gotta love that. The prices are excellent, two of us got out for less than $18 and the portions are large.

The staff brings out your food to you on the deck or wherever you happen to be. The lady at the counter told us we could wander around, hang out, sit wherever and they would find us. There is a separate large pavilion with seating a stone’s throw away from the deck proper, complete with a roof and ceiling fans but it was empty at the time I visited. The Woodyard could throw a serious party with a lot of people if they were so inclined.

Woodyard patio

So there we were, with our car parked awkwardly in a gravel lot, drinking budweiser from a can, sitting on a deck watching a dude who looks like an ex-con flip ribs on the smoker. In other words, it’s a lot like how I spend the rest of my free time. No really, it was like going to a friends summer BBQ, or more like the summer BBQ of someone who you don’t really know that well. There was a even a set of horseshoes sitting on top of the trash can–I was tempted to set up shop there all afternoon.

On to the food:

Let’s get this out of the way first. Woodyard is NOT the best barbecue in Kansas City. It just ain’t. I’ve read and heard glowing things about it all over the place but the truth is that it does not compare favorably to Oklahoma Joe’s, Bryant’s, Jack Stack or (insert your fave bbq place here). But the food is prepared well and the experience is thoroughly enjoyable.

Burnt Ends

Beans were very good but almost certainly dressed up canned beans. The potato salad was run of the mill. The cole slaw was average. The pulled pork, however, was extremely interesting. It lacked the bite that hickory smoked woods give to meat, and was most likely cooked with some sort of fruit wood. But it had an amazing, buttery consistency and very good flavor. The ribs were similarly smoked but a little fatty for my taste. I think they could have used another hour on the smoker, because the texture of the meat was a little too…real. not that I didn’t eat them all. I liked the brisket but it was shaved so thin that it dried out quickly. Plus, I just like a thicker slice of beef, akin to that at Bryants or LC’s.

But I have to say, these are some of the most friendly and easygoing people I have ever encountered in a lunch spot. And the atmosphere is quite compelling. This is a very special place to have in KC and would be really fun to hang out at for a long while with friends. But as a lunch spot? I don’t know if it works. It seems like a place much better savored over a long time than quickly before your 1:30 meeting. It’s a destination place, and everyone should try it.

Read more:

Woodyard Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon


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The Mixx: 4855 Main St.

 Posted by at 2:20 am
Apr 172008

All I can say is that the Mixx is one of those places I will go to only grudgingly. Are you one of those people who enjoys:

going to popular movies on opening night?
the chaos of the Apple Store?
Oklahoma Joe’s on Saturday afternoon?
Disney World/Land?

You see, I’m not a people person. And when aforementioned “people” involve JoCo baby shower attendees, a plethora of three-year-old children and people eating lunch before seeing yet another boring white guy speak at the Plaza Library, well I get a little bit grumpy.

But the Mixx is totally good for those all too infrequent healthy/fresh cravings I get, particularly on weekend afternoons after a week of BBQ, Mexican food, brown-bag sandwiches, and deep fried delicasies. Well, at least I don’t eat snack cakes any more, unlike some other people.

This is one of those build-your-own salads places. This is something that is done to reasonably good effect at grocery store salad bars, but the Mixx takes it to the next level. They have some very nice ingredients that cannot be found in the average salad bar, not even the highly-praised whole foods variety. Yeah I eat at whole foods once in a while, so what? So basically you can go into the Mixx and order mixed greens, romaine or spinach; topped with a protein like grilled salmon or chicken, and your choice of any number of cheeses, nuts, fruits, and vegetables. It’s an airtight gimmick, it’s delicious and it works.

There is always a line at this place, they do a very good business. You have to order at the counter and your salad is made to order. But it can be slow-going. As my co-diner noted “they always act like they are so surprised to be busy.” And it’s true, it’s always a barely controlled mayhem behind the counter, but fortunately the staff is exceedingly kind, which almost makes up for paying $12 for a friggin salad.

Yeah, it ain’t cheap and you will spend that kind of money easily if you’re planning on drinking anything other than water. The desserts are a frequent temptation as well. I believe their cupcakes received one of those ubiquitous “best of” awards from the pitch a year or so back, and the cookies are excellent. But bring your goddamn wallet.

After recieving food from the counter you pay and navigate Kansas City’s most cacophonous dining room to find a place to sit. Seriously it’s so loud mostly becuase there are always tons of kids in there. And the table are, like 1 foot closer together than they should be so it’s always dicey keeping your salad bowl upright while squeezing past some oblivious, no-job-having aging beauty queen and her brood. Seriously the seating area is loud, which normally would be fine, but I just wish that a place so close to the library would be a little mellower. For instance, they sell beer, but I can;t imagine kicking back and having a few at the Mixx for chrissakes. It’s just not a fun place to hang out.

Being situated so close to the Plaza branch of the KC Public Library is great–it’s almost the default restaurant for the institution. I personally think it’s nice to be able to check out some books and read them over lunch at the Mixx. Or you have someplace to eat before/after a program at the Library. But the whole vibe there sort of bugs me. If they waited on me or had a salad bar, I might like it more. Yeah, crazy right?

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Mixx on Urbanspoon


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Apr 132008

In the food world Chicago is mostly known for this

But my favorite part of living (and eating) there was this monstrosity:

Italian Beef

Italian Beef

A big shout-out here to a reader and ex-Chicagoan who turned me on to Pizza Man and its truly delicious Italian Beef!

Just up the road a touch from Lenexa’s hilariously named Stonewall Inn, lies an unpretentious lunch spot that serves up some of the best humble lunch classics in true Chicago fashion and its beef is good enough to sate those unmistakable meat cravings associated with this glorious nugget of beefosity.

For the uninitiated, an italian beef is a sandwich consisting of shaved roast beef that has been cooked with italian spices. It is invariably accompanied by a thin, beefy jus infused with oregano, and topped with sauteed peppers and/or onions and/or giardiniera. Giardiniera itself is worthy of its own post, no-its own blog, but suffice it to say that it consists of pickled peppers and other vegetables. It can be hot or mild and often contains oddballs like cauliflower, carrots, green olives, capers…really anything.

photo Bella Baita B&B View on Flickr.

An italian beef can be served dry or wet (topped with a ladleful of jus) or dipped (dipped in the jus). Pizza Man serves the gravy on the side which works just fine for me. I know, wet bread? Sounds gross, but lemme tell ya people, it isn’t. It’s really really good. A lot of that has to do with the dense, spongy roll that is the carrier of all this deliciousness. It just works.

Pizza Man is a cool little place too. You order at the counter and Mr. Crusty at the counter (who really really really likes KU basketball) brings it out to you. The place was only a little busy but my beef did take a while to come out. And I got mine before the dude who was in front of me in line. Whatever, they got italian beef, man, they could tell me to fuck off and I’d still go back.

Anyway, there are a few arcade games in the joint too which you just don’t see enough of anymore. Oh, did I mention they sell beer? yeah I’m thinking about knocking back a few, eating italian beefs and playing galaga all weekend.

So Pizza Man gets a big thumbs up from me. And the menu is very sizable–lots of pizza as you can imagine, and chicago style hot dogs to boot. They also have meatball sandwiches and some other heart clogging cravables.

Meatball Sandwich

If you are hankering for more check out this web page of italian beef photos!

Or the Wikipedia Entry


Pizza Man on Urbanspoon


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Feb 132008


Pretty much everyone loves this place, there are accolades all over the web, extolling the virtues of its ambience, uniqueness and mostly its hamburgers. Without question, the Flea Market is one of Kansas City’s most interesting lunch spots, and well worth a visit for those who have not been there. It’s also a decent place for happy hour, dinner and late nite carousing.

But it’s not perfect, people.

For first-timers, the following is an important aspect of the dining experience to be aware of. While the tables have menus on them and there are plenty of waitresses about, food must be ordered from the register at the end of the bar. Unless you happen to arrive at a slow time, you’ll see the line. You pay for your food at the register, and pick it up from a window when they call your name over the annoying loudspeaker. Waitresses operate only to serve drinks, and these must be paid for in cash on the spot, like any self-respecting bar. The beer selection in excellent, and they offer upwards of 20 on tap if I’m not mistaken. It is basically a bar that allows an external vendor to sell its wares within the confines. In fact, I think that is exactly the situation. The wait for food can be lengthy but not unreasonable for a lunch spot. The menu (pdf) has lots of stuff to offer, but it’s the burgers that are their bread and butter.

Anyone who says the flea market offers the “best burger ever” is just fooling himself, and probably doesn’t get out of town a whole hell of a lot.

Let’s talk burgers for a moment. Burgers are about the whole package–the glorious assemblage of perfect meat, bun, toppings and condiments. There is also the very important notion of how it is cooked. Burgers can be grilled, fried, steamed, barbequed, oven-roasted, submerged in boiling oil, poached, oven-roasted and baked. Well, maybe not poached, that’s gross. Anyhow, this is just to say that even the simplest of foods carries a lot of complicated decisions about ingredients and preparation. Anyone who watches the goddamn food network with any regularity knows that, in order to create the “perfect” anything, you need to consider every last detail. And in the end, the overly perky host always chalks it up to something hokey like “heart,” “love,” or the ubiquitous “it’s in his blood.”

While the burgers at WFM are excellent and I crave them periodically, they lack the complete package. The meat is excellent, freshly ground from McGonigles and has a texture and a flavor that is hard to parallel. But condiments and toppings are a do it yourself affair; the Flea Market has a fixins bar with the usual assortment of toppings: tomatoes, lettuce, onions, pickles, etc. But the bar pretty much sucks in terms of quality. It features shredded iceberg lettuce (ever try keeping that on a bun?), and the lamest pale, thin-cut tomato slices ever. The whole bar is vaguely unappetizing, with the contents of the tomato container veritably disintegrating into a mass of disjointed, flaccid flesh. Thick cut, yellow onion slices don’t really do it for me either. I usually just get some pickles and make my way back to the table. Likewise the bun is unremarkable, slightly undersized and doesn;t seem up to the task of delivering this wonderful meat slab into your mouth.
The ‘flea market burger’ is quite large, and difficult to finish even for someone of my appetite and ever-increasing girth. I typically go with the mini-burger and some onion rings. The rings are excellent, not overly breaded, very crispy and taste like they didn;t come frozen out of a brown paper bag. The curly fries are what they are. Kind of boring, but with all the hallmarks of being homemade. Definitely try the deep fried pickles–the best I’ve had.

Oh, did I mention that there is a flea market? yeah, and quite a sizable one at that. I don’t know the history of the place, but it definitely is incredibly original as a concept. It’s neat to have a few beers and a burger, then walk around the stalls looking at old stuff for a while. Also a great way to kill time while yer food is cooking. Like most flea markets, the booths are slightly overpriced, and the proprietors seem lacking in most social graces, but it’s fun nonetheless.

A few years ago, the Westport Flea Market was in danger of going away, subsumed by the onslaught of westport gentrification. But apparently some kind gent bought the place and pledged to keep it going in the same vein as before. By all accounts, this effort has been successful. So even if the burger isn’t perfect, it’s still damn good and worthy of your discerning little mouths.

Read more:

Westport Flea Market on Urbanspoon


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Feb 082008

Oh man, this place is pretty damn good. I was really, really, really surprised because from the road it looks like pure suburban douchebaggery.

It’s in a pretty nondescript strip mall on Quivira south of Shawnee Mission parkway. Now, whenever I see BBQ in the KC area, I go. And to be frank, I had not heard of Bates City BBQ before, though i think there is a Bates City, Missouri out east of here somewhere.

This place has tremendous character. Yes, they try kinda hard, but they succeed. The first thing I noticed driving up was a sign advertising gennesee beer. You just don;t see Genny in these parts, and it was a legendary quaff among me and my associates in college. Of course, so were a dozen other cheap ass beers. Anyhow, the sign was cool, and the outside of the restaurant featured enormous stacks of wood piled high next to the entrance. I knew that they were doing some serious smoking in this place.

Inside, the service counter was basically a testament to the homespun wisdom of some guy named Tom. Probably the owner of the establishment. Anyhow, the walls and columns around the counter line are riddled with sayings written on torn pieces of brown paper bag. There were so many it’s hard to remember, but here are a couple:

“If at first you don’t succeed,
You’re average” — Tom

Bates City BBQ
“Remember that half the people you know are below average” –Tom

I recall these particular sayings because I was enamored with Tom’s obsession with putting people in their place. Tom is saying ‘get over it people, you’re not so great, you’re just friggin’ average! Deal with it!’ This resonates with me because it’s one of the unofficial themes of my life. Not that I’m average, just every one else is.

Anyway, I got a real kick out of these sayings although many of them flirted with redneckery (“The smartest thing a man ever said: ‘Yes Dear'”). The places just oozes with a sense of humor. The styrofoam cups picture a steer and a pig, arm-in-arm around a fire, smiling like sonabitches.

The places smells delicious and is quite affordable. I purchased a nice sized sandwich, fries and soft srink for 7 bucks and change. The beef was very well flavored, featuring a mighty impressive smoke ring. I could have done without the sesame roll it came on. Where’s the white bread, Tom? They are very liberal with the sauce on the sandwich, so be sure to ask for it dry if that’s the way you roll.

Pulled pork

Shawnee Southern sandwich

The fries were short little crunchy nuggets, kind of like the ass-end of the fryolator. But they were surprisingly delicious and I think this is deliberate. They are a pain to eat w/o a fork though.

Bates City

The sauce was pretty solid. Typical KC stuff here: sweet, thick, tangy, well-flavored. Not in the pantheon of sauces, but very pleasant. The place really advertises its ribs a lot, they must be a favorite. The guy next to me in line got them, and they looked a little overcooked, and again, definitely oversauced. Contrary to popular belief, rib meat should not fall off the bone. That usually means it was finished in tin foil or (*shudder*) par-boiled before smoking. But I’ll reserve ultimate judgment until I actually eat the damn things. And I will, because I’ll be back.

The clientele is kind of what you’d expect for a Shawnee, Kansas BBQ joint. I think my nondescript Toyota was having serious inadequacy issues parked in between two cocktacular pickup trucks the size of humpbacked whales. There were no women to be found in the place, just middle aged guys with mustaches. Let’s just say that Bates City is not a place where I’m inclined to talk politics.

Read more:
Bates City Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon


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Feb 012008

In the review below I display an apparently astonishing ignorance of Mexican cuisine when I complain about tacos al pastor having pineapple in it. Well, it turns out that tacos al pastor is supposed to have pineapple. I just didn’t realize/notice/remember when I’ve had it in the past. So I’ve left the post intact as testimony to my unreliability as a food reviewer. Enjoy!

In my continuing effort to leave no suburban strip mall cuisine unexplored, I paid an unanticipated visit to Fronteras, a tasteful little lunch spot in a thoroughly unremarkable part of Lenexa. As opposed to the truly remarkable parts.

God there is a hell of a lot of Mexican food in Johnson County, I don;t know what’s going on. Fronteras is across the street from another Mexican place, and down the street from yet another. Are they really all that different? One of them has to be good right?

Well Fronteras started out in very promising fashion. I was seated hurriedly, the place was moderately busy, orders were taken quickly and efficiently. They have a lunch menu which I kind of like. Basically you get one thing (taco, enchilada, tamale, etc) with rice and beans for like 6 bucks. Doesn’t seem like a lot but it is the perfect portion size for lunch. I don;t understand people who need to eat an entire plate of cheesy, beany, meaty-ness before heading back to a brisque afternoon in the cubicle. Get a grip, people.

I went for the taco al pastor which is basically a seasoned pork, either roasted or braised slowly. The plate arrived very quickly, which was a good thing, since my neck hurt from watching two unknown soccer teams playing on the TV in the corner. Note: It’s usually a good sign when mexican restaurants have soccer games going on two televisions. It means there might be real live Mexican people working there. It doesn;t matter if you like the sport or not. I don;t want to walk into a Thai restaurant and hear “eye of the tiger” over the stero system.

Anyhow i was excited for my taco, but it was so damn hot I couldn;t eat it for like 10 minutes. I swear, it was unreal, but fine with me since I can;t stand cold food. Finally I was able to take a bite, and…well…what is that flavor I detect?


yes there is friggin’ pineapple in the pork at this place. Now, I can understand that complementary nature of certain fruits and the deliciousness of pork-ity in all its forms. I can understand the impulse or even the need to experiment, and come up with a special recipe that will distinguish you from the glut of Mexican-ity in JoCo. But please do not put pineapple in my tacos al pastor! I’m sure there are people who like this, they find it unusual, intriguing, or even classy. Those people are wrong.

No it wasn’t disgusting, just wrong. I ate it all, ate my refried beans (excellent by the way!) and rice (boil in bag?). So, more Mexican disappointment in the JoCo hinterlands. I know that there are good places in the metro, I’ve tried them and just haven’t blogged about it yet. But not everyone can get to the boulevard or wherever when they want. I keep thinking that with so many Mexican restaurants, there should be a few that stand out. La Paloma is one, but there are a few things that bug me about it. No refried beans is a big one, the offer only black beans. Mi Ranchito is OK, but i prefer a more authentic cuisine and there’s hardly a corn tortilla to be found in the place. And their use of cheese is really beyond the pale. So I’ll keep trucking and keep complaining. happy (or unhappy) eating!

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Fronteras Mexican on Urbanspoon


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