Avenues Bistro: 338 West 63rd St.

 Posted by at 5:49 pm
Oct 262008

Avenues Bistro is a classy neighborhood establishment on the high rent corner of 63rd and Wornall, one of my least favorite intersections to walk or drive through in the entire city. There’s nothing quite like impatient, entitled white people trying to avoid the indignity of waiting for anyone to do anything before barreling their Honda Pilot right on through. Anyhow, those very same white people often end up at Avenues Bistro for lunch. The other day, I was one of those people.
Avenues Bistro
This is a really nice looking restaurant. There is a bar/lounge area up front that gets a little sun, and is a tad more laid back than the dining room proper. If you go to Avenues for lunch, I would opt for the bar. Something about lunch makes me crave sunlight and noise. The dining room looks perfect for dinner: no windows, comfy chairs, a soothing color scheme.

Looking at the menu I became very excited. There were a lot of things I wanted to eat. Avenues offers a ton of fresh entree salads, sandwiches, soup and entrees. The menu is combination of old fashioned bar and grill fare and more contemporary light dishes. The whole affair is heavy on seafoods and chicken which is actually a welcome sight. But of course you can still get a meatloaf sandwich, hamburger and the now ubiquitous “Cuban” sandwich. Here’s the full lunch menu from their website (PDF).

The wine list is pretty interesting too. It’s very conversational in tone, with lots of exclamation points in the descriptions, and some of the most unfunny puns I’ve ever read.
cheesy wine list
The cheapest glass of wine you’re gonna get here is a $7 grenache, but damn it’s good. I’m not very knowledgeable about wine, but I feel like these sommeliers know their stuff. There are four people here responsible for the wine list. Four!

Back to eats, here’s what I ordered: “PROSCIUTTO, BRIE AND PEAR: Thinly Sliced Italian Prosciutto, Imported Brie Cheese, Fresh Pear Slices, Baby Greens and Sweet Peppadews on Grilled Brioche Bread. (9.95)”

Doesn’t that sound awesome? You want to see what it looked like?
Avenues Bistro
That’s right, it looks like a grilled ham and cheese from Denny’s! Seriously, this sandwich was not well-executed. Brioche bread=texas toast. Needs a baguette. Pears should always, always be ripe before you slice them and put them on someone’s sandwich. Ick. This sandwich should not have been grilled. Prosciutto loses most of its delicious power when moderately heated. Then it turns into toothsome, greasy glorified ham. And yes, I’m an idiot for ordering it, but it sounded so good!

And I can barely talk about the fruit salad. Take a look at the photo. I think it may have been ordered already prepared, or frozen. I really don’t want to talk about it.

My dining companion opted for the shrimp nicoise salad which looked very pretty, tasted good but was generally uninspired. The shrimp was overcooked and moreover seemed as if it had been prepared earlier in the day, not grilled to order. Excusable at some places, but not here.
But I’m saving the worst culinary offense for last, the so-called pommes frites. I’m not going to get into pissing matches with people about the difference between pommes frites and regular french fries, but suffice it to say that there are rules you follow for the luxury of charging me $5 for potatoes.

1. Use fresh potatoes
2. Slice thinly
3. offer interesting dipping sauce(s)
You get bonus points for serving them in a cone.

If you break any of the above rules, these taters better be goddamned good.

Well, they got the dipping sauces right.
"Pomme Frite"
Now, call me crazy, but doesn’t that seem like a pile of run of the mill US Food Service frozen french fries that this place has the audacity to call “pommes frites?!” I know this is only Kansas City, but this borders on shenanigans.

I was ready to love this place. The menu is pretty well thought-out and nearly every item was appealingly described. But decisions like crappy fruit salad as “fresh fruit,” frozen french fries as “pommes frites,” and white bread as “brioche” come from the top. It’s not even worth complaining about our server who told everyone she waited on that he had made “an excellent choice.” Annoying, but not uncommon at nice restaurants. Somebody is just plain cynical if they think they can get away with these other hijinks in the restaurant business.

This place isn’t going anywhere because people clearly like the food and the atmosphere. And I’m willing to believe that some other menu items are good. But if I want European style bistro fare, I’m going to Aixois a mere 8 blocks away.

Don’t take my word for it, read more:

Avenues Bistro Brookside on Urbanspoon


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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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Healthy Eating in the metro

 Posted by at 3:00 pm
Oct 102008

First of all, Chimpo you can stop reading right now.

I love a good basket of deep fried nuggets or a bacon-topped sandwich as much as the next person. Indeed my favorite foods tend to be of the death-inducing variety. But sometimes overly fatty foods can be a little…overbearing for lunch. We all have moments when our conscience or our constitutions can only handle so much. Maybe the weather or your mood doesn’t lend itself to creamy sauces or overly rich foods. Maybe you want to stay awake through the rest of the workday. Whatever.

I for one try to eat healthily for many lunches. Though I’m no stranger to overindulgence in any area of life, I do like smaller portions for my mid-day meals. And I think salad, fresh vegetables and tofu taste good, just like cheeseburgers, pizza and BBQ ribs. My favorite dishes of all are those that are decent for you without even trying, like Vietnamese rice noodle bowls, bison burgers, and smoked turkey.

I know there are places that specialize in vegetarian/vegan cuisine like Eden Alley and Cafe Seed. But I’m looking for more under the radar stuff. I’m sure there are healthy-ish dishes at lunch spots all across the metro. So, dear reader, I ask you this:

What are your favorite healthy dishes to eat when you go out to lunch? And where do you order them?

Oct 082008

When I posted about the pedestrian but serviceable Rainbow Korean Restaurant earlier this year, a few commenters suggested I try Cho-ga across Metcalf. Not long after, I had lunch there with Meesha, the award-winning, benevolent Czar of the KC blogosphere and his delightful daughter. I think it’s fair to say that we were all pretty happy with the food–even the youngin’. I’ve made a repeat visit or two by my lonesome and have found the food to be quite consistent.

First of all, it’s located at 105th and Metcalf which is pretty much my definition of hell. Yeah I know, all I do is complain about the suburbs while consistently working, eating and spending my money there all the freakin’ time. I’m the worst kind of hypocrite. Anyhow, the shopping center that houses Cho-ga has not aged well (what shopping center does?), it has a drab color and a wan-looking cedar shake roofing. The center is comprised of several “islands” of shops, each surrounding a perfectly charming little courtyard. Some shops have entrances on the outside and some on the courtyard side.

Surprisingly it houses some pretty successful business, notably the OP version of D’Bronx which by most accounts is not as good as its 39th street counterpart. I also stopped by a business called “A Touch of Asia” because I was looking for…well you know, a touch of Asia. To my dismay I found it to be yet another JoCo Indian lunch buffet. I guess I’ll be back when I’m less hot and bothered.

Cho-ga is located at the East edge of the shopping center, and faces north. The interior is nothing special, a virtually undecorated mid-sized room containing a mix of tables and booths. This place get fairly busy at the height of lunch hour and the service is typically pretty mediocre. It took me at least 5 minutes to get seated on one trip, another time the waiter forgot my drink order, another time I waited insanely long to get my check. But of course, commenter Tze Yuin warned me about this so I was prepared. Yes this is the same gentleman woman who insisted I try the Chinese menu at Lucky Wok and I think he she is my new hero.

But the food at Cho-ga is excellent. As I’ve mentioned previously I am not an expert on Korean food, but the value, presentation and taste are all top-notch in my own humble, esteemed, infallible, totally kick-ass opinion.

The menu offers a number of things to choose from: beef, seafood, chicken, pork, soups and more. There is a regular lunch menu and a list of “lunch boxes” on the flip side. Here’s a terrible photo of the regular menu:


And the boxes…


I usually get the boxes because they are cute. I have eaten the pork, beef bulgogi and short ribs and they are all very tasty. The short ribs are sliced cross-wise and still attached to little pieces of bone, making them quite challenging to eat with chopsticks. But it’s worth it.


In addition to the primary offering, lunch boxes come with steamed rice, two dumplings, a small portion of noodles, salad (mostly lettuce) cabbage kim chee, and a few slices of melon to calm the palate at the end of the affair. That’s a lot of food! Most of them run $8.95 so expect to pay a several dollars more with beverage and an unextravagant tip for subpar service.

Cho ga

So if you’re looking for Korean chow, go pay them a visit. You won’t be alone, you won’t be the only non-Korean there (assuming you know, that you’re not Korean) and the food is well worth it.

PS: Well crap, I just checked out the Pitch for info on Cho-ga and found a typically top-notch Charles Ferruzza review dated TOMORROW (Oct.9 2008). Ferruzza is bending the laws of space and time people! If this is not some mistake, there will be plenty of info about Cho-ga to go around. If only I had published this two months ago when I started it. Anyhow, read his take. I found Cho-ga somewhat less exotic, but I haven’t been for dinner. I don’t blog about dinner.

Read more:

Choga Korean on Urbanspoon


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Sep 152008

UPDATE: Pollo Loco has closed and reopened as La Cabana Del Pollo.

Once again, thanks to Faith for keeping me honest (or at least marginally competent) about the difference between a sketchy local Mexican joint and a national restaurant chain.

Pollo Loco has been open less than two weeks. I drove by on Monday and noticed that there were a couple cars in the lot so I figured what the hell. I walked into the dining room to find a clean but completely undecorated space. Essentially the room held four formica booths, two of which were occupied by Latino gentlemen who, judging from their clothing were definitely in the painting business.

Though this was obviously a Mexican establishment, the smell of the place was unmistakably that of BBQ. They were obviously using a healthy dose of smoke in their cooking. I’d wager hickory if my taste buds are to be trusted (they’re not). Before I sat down, a woman noticed my entrance and somewhat apologetically indicated that they were operating with a very limited menu. While I stood there she explained the primary offering: a half a smoked chicken with tortillas, salsa, rice and other stuff. That sounded damn good to me, having read Meesha’s post about Super Pollo on Independence Ave a couple weeks ago. It sounded similar and in the end, it was.

She delivered a can of coke from a cooler full of Jarritos fruit sodas and cans of domestic pop. My food arrived before I could even get out my phone to check twitter. Seriously, like 1 minute. Crazy Fast chicken is right people!

The chicken arrived on a styrofoam plate and looked like a right mess.

But damn it tasted good. Yep this is simply half a chicken cooked on a smoky grill, roughly hacked into pieces and thrown on a disposable plate with no garnish.

So what.

Grilled chicken is no great mystery, but it’s definitely one of the most satisfying meals of all time. They managed to smoke it without giving the skin that rubbery texture of the “low & slow” method. So I’m guessing that they smoke it at a high temperature. It was juicy, flavorful, not overly smoky, had crunchy skin and was cooked well.

The rice was very typical of Mexican restaurants: small exploded grains with a mild stock-ish flavor and pale red hue. The corn tortillas were not homemade but tasted fresh and good enough. And holy cow, marinated red onions, just like Meesha had at Super Pollo. Those things are perfect accompaniment to the chicken.

So obviously this is a distinctive variety of Mexican or Mexican American cuisine. Grill-smoked chicken on a tortilla with salsa and pickled onions. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed this trend before.

But I got something else with my meal: macaroni salad! WTF? Seriously the plate came with a mayonnaise-dressed macaroni salad with chucks of ham in it. I’m sorry, did my aunt Rita sneak in the Pollo Loco kitchen when I wasn’t looking?

Okay, so the pasta salad was not the best thing ever, but it wasn’t horribly executed and overall the meal was very good. Did I mention that this was a shit-ton of food? Easily enough for two people. And it cost me six bucks.

However the best part was the service. The waitress only had a few tables to deal with, and the place is new so she was overly attentive if anything. But it was cool and I did ask her a few questions about the place; she was very accommodating and friendly. She said that last week was kind of a soft launch but they had no register and no change which was kind of a mess. Most of the customers were friends and family so it turned out alright. They will add things to the menu–but not too much, she said, because they want to keep it simple. I was very heartened to hear that. These days they have a cash register but no credit card machine yet (it’s coming). You know what that means? Tax included baby!

She also said Monday was their first day selling tamales. Excellent! The previous business in this location specialized in those little masa nuggets of heaven, and made pretty good ones to boot. I’ll have to try Pollo Loco’s version.

So this place is still ironing out their menu, their workflow and their infrastructure. Judging from what I saw the other day, they have a bright future ahead. If I managed to have a good meal during their first real week of business,I can only imagine that things will get better. And seriously, just being able to chat with the waitress and thank the cook made all the difference. This is so obviously a labor of love for the owners, and honestly one that may not work out. But hopefully if they keep it simple, stay friendly, and maintain the good quality and value they will get along just fine.

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Lucky Wok: 15129 W 87th St.

 Posted by at 2:46 am
Sep 112008

This visit lay to rest one of the rumors I’ve heard my entire adult life, but somehow never quite believed. It goes something like this:

Chinese restaurants cater so much to their American clientele such that they dumb down the food on their menu. But, unbeknownst to non-Chinese, there is always a Chinese version of the menu that contains more authentic (and delicious) dishes intended for a more refined Chinese palate. Certainly I’ve been to these restaurants before and seen platters of completely unfamiliar and sometimes odd food being delivered to Chinese patrons. An alternate version of the theory proposes that native Chinese can just order “whole fish” or merely ask for what’s good that day and get treated to a custom made feast.

I tended to disbelieve these rumors because misconceptions about Chinese persons and their food run rampant. I can’t tell you how many reviews I’ve read that insist that such and such restaurant serves dog or cat, or they practice highly unsanitary food handling, or they skimp on quality because they think Caucasian diners won’t notice. The “secret menu” idea just seemed like a paranoid white person’s way of saying “they only serve the good stuff to the Chinese.”

Well, I’m happy to say that Chinese menus are indeed real. Real credit for turning me on to this revelation goes to commenter Tze Yuin who encouraged me to try Lucky Wok, and the ever-respectable, eloquent and refined Ulterior Epicure who has an absolutely essential post on great, authentic Chinese dining in Kansas City. In fact, skip the rest of this post and just read his. He is much more knowledgeable than I am, though far less likely to bring up Knight Rider, Schlitz Malt Liquor, or Englebert Humperdink than me.

So yeah, I walk inside Lucky Wok only to be greeted by the most pedestrian Chinese buffet I have ever seen. The usual assortment of beige, deep fried nuggets are on display accompanied by the requisite orange and red sauces that could double as dessert toppings. I realize these things have their appeal, but so does port wine cheese spread. The woman at the counter seated me, assuming I wanted the buffet. I asked to see a menu and she handed me a tome that offered the typical Amero-Chinese delights: Egg Foo-Yung, Sweet and Sour everything, Lo Mein, and various other things that are synonymous with “deep fried pieces of meat with sweet technicolor sauce.”

Then I asked if I could see the Chinese menu. She didn’t bat an eye and immediately handed over an only slightly smaller booklet which offered a completely different set of dishes. Seriously I cannot overstate the disconnect between the regular menu and the Chinese menu. This was stuff that looked delicious, stuff I found vaguely disturbing, stuff I couldn’t understand and most importantly, stuff I had never heard of.

The menu was split into categories: soups, noodles, Hong Kong style dishes, seafood, beef, pork, chicken–possibly a couple others. I ordered Hot & Spicy bean curd and Double Delight Soup.

The soup ($2.25) was beautiful to behold and pleasing to the taste buds. Two varieties of ground fish cake floating in a mild chicken broth. It was delicious, though a tad on the fish-tastic side for most Western tastes I’ll warrant. The broth was pleasantly greasy and not overpowering–clearly house made.

The tofu dish ($6.95) was a little more run of the mill than I expected. I could have been more adventurous in my choice of dishes for sure. This was basically a stir fry with tofu, green peppers, pork, hot peppers and straw mushrooms. Yes, there was pork in the tofu dish, no one ever claimed it was vegetarian.

So it wasn’t an overwhelmingly unfamiliar flavor at all, just a simple stir fry with good, fresh ingredients (well, the mushrooms were likely canned) and I couldn’t stop eating it. So sorry, no bizarre flavors here folks. In fact, many of the dishes on the Chinese menu seemed like they would appeal to many gringos. I say these restaurants should publicize these menus more and expand their client base. Or not. Personally I like the feeling of eating something really special while fat guys with mustaches are eating egg rolls from a Sysco bag and sweet & sour sauce squeezed out of a pouch. The portion was outstanding, easily enough to have leftovers the next day.

The service was truly wonderful. It was absolutely no trouble to order from the menu during lunch buffet hours and didn’t mind when I asked for the Chinese version. The food came out quickly and was so freaking hot that I could hardly eat for 5 minutes.

The decor is pretty typical and unremarkable. Red vinyl booths, some gold-accentuated artwork. Nothing fancy, nothing particularly tasteful as far as I’m concerned, but this is a lunch joint. The taste needs to be on the plate, not on the wall.

So overall, an outstanding experience. I can’t thank Tze Yuin enough for his her recommendation and encouragement to move into uncharted territory for me. Seriously, from now on, I’m asking for Chinese menus at Chinese restaurants. I don’t care if I risk looking like a pompous douche or a creepy asiaphile. It really makes all the difference.

Read more:

Lucky Wok Chinese on Urbanspoon


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Updates: Repeat Visits

 Posted by at 3:19 am
Sep 012008

Tienda Casa Paloma: I’m afraid that this place is starting to disappoint me. I visit for lunch about once a month and have decided that most things on the menu are just average. I ordered the chiles rellenos last week and they were ice cold in the middle. Now, I won’t get all uppity about the fact that these were clearly pre-made–they were inexpensive and I can;t expect a relatively complicated dish of this sort to be made from scratch. But the primary ingredient is cheese. It’a cheese-filled poblano pepper. It needs to be hot and melted. I took my plate to the counter and asked to have it warmed up. Two minutes (in the microwave) later she brought it back out: Still not hot. I figured life was too short, ate what I could and took my leave. I’ve also found the carne asada to be somewhat flavorless and tough. I won’t even mention that crazy yellow cheese sauce that I witnessed at an impromptu blogger lunch earlier this year.

Bates City BBQ: This place continues to impress. Never had a bad meal and the service is outstanding.

I ate lunch at Cancun Fiesta Fresh yesterday and am happy to report that it still serves up some of the best quick and simple Mexican food in midtown. This place has been in business for well over a year and I hope it establishes itself as a Westport institution. Now if they could only get a liquor license…

Red Dragon House downtown is undoubtedly the fastest place to get a freshly prepared hot meal on the face of the earth. While the food can be pedestrian, I’ve found the Hunan Chicken to be quite reliable. Here’s a tip: Skip the mediocre soups that come with the lunch special and they will give you extra rice (which you’ll need).

The tuna sandwich is probably my favorite dish at Farm to Market Cafe.

Lunch buffet at Waldo Pizza? Doesn’t do it for me folks.

Closed for Business

 Posted by at 4:26 pm
Aug 252008

UPDATE! El Pollo Loco in Merriam is not the same as the California fast food chain! See Faith’s post over at Frighteningly Uncommon Sense (Thanks Faith!)

A couple of updates on this front, please comment if you know more.

Pomegranate, local food maven, blogger and fellow Merriam Drive haunter tipped me that local tamale purveyors Coyoacan have closed. What’s worse they have been replaced by El Pollo Loco, a truly horrendous looking chain restaurant a mysterious local restaurant specializing in that traditional, age old classic, Mexican Grilled Chicken.

UPDATE: I visited Pollo Loco on Monday, 9/15/08.

Another favorite of mine which I had yet to review was Max’s Auto-Diner on 63rd near Holmes. They made very good little hamburgers, gyros and other deep fried delights. More importantly, they had really friendly ownership. It kept weird hours, though. I think they tried to subsist on the lunch trade alone and clearly it did not work out for them. As far as I know, there is still a Max’s down on Wornall. The good news is a big sign on the window announcing the future arrival of a hot dog joint. I’ll be first in line, and will report back faithfully in due course. This is a very cool little building (a former drive-in) and I’m glad it’s being re-used.

Lastly the blogosphere is all a-twitter (pun intended) about the closing of Bar Natasha. I only visited a couple times, but enjoyed the show and had a decent cocktail or three. Where will all the drag queens go now? This is a loss for Kansas City, hopefully something will step up to fill the void.

UPDATE: be sure to check out Making of a Foodie for a more comprehensive overview restaurants that are closed, closing, changing or moving.

Aug 192008

There are three places in Kansas City called Smokestack and this is the only one I’ve been to. There’s one in the northland, one in South KC and this one in Not-As-Far South KC on Wornall road. Anyone know if these are the same operation or just have the same name?

Smokestack is not the best BBQ in the city but it is rather good, and there is something really appealing about the place. It’s not a dive by any stretch but it is very old fashioned. If I recall correctly, it is carpeted and the walls are wood paneled. The “entryway” is defined by a handyman’s wall made from unpainted lattice. My favorite part? The walls are covered with huge, blown-up family portraits taken circa 1973. God I really need to get my camera back, sorry folks, it was stolen by an Oregonian caterer last month. So I’ll have to steal photos from the Smokestack web site.

Looks good, eh?

There is table service at Smokestack, which blows my mind every time I witness it at a BBQ joint. But here, it really fits. This is an old school family run business and I’d say most of the folks running the show are on the older side. I think Smokestack is intended to be a place for “regular folks” to have a nice meal out in KC. In other words, just go with it. They are great servers, all business, no bullshit, big hair.

They aren’t much for presentation at this place, but they certainly give you a nice portion of smoked meat. They have everything you could possibly want in a Kansas City BBQ joint and offer a number of combinations for folks like me who just can’t decide what to try. Like most places they push the ribs in a lot of their combos, probably because they cost more than most other things. I also think ribs are a little more forgiving to the novice cook. I’ve smoked some good ribs in my day but have yet to make a brisket that’s worthy of my mailing address. Oh, have I mentioned that I don’t think the ribs are all that great at Smokestack? They are the “fall off the bone” variety which always reminds me of pot roast rather than BBQ. I like tender meat that still has some integrity and adheres to the bone. These are on the fatty side as well. They remind me of those at the Woodyard.

The beans however, are particularly good. On the sweet side for sure very sweet but tomatoey, with nice chunks of smoked pork in them. The standard side portion is 4 oz, however, which is basically useless. Do yourself a favor and get the large side or you’ll wind up with a veritable shot glass of a souffle cup full of beans. Speaking of beans, they have really good ones at McGonigles when they are out selling BBQ.

The beef and pork are both very good. They have steak fries here which I just don’t get. They don’t have to fry fresh potatoes to make me happy, but I really dislike the mealy, heavy, limp-dick quality that pre-made steak fries usually have. I always find myself eating the smaller, crispier nuggets.

Prices are fine. You’ll eat your ass off for 10-12 bucks, including tip.
There are a couple other BBQ spots that you could choose from in the general vicinity. That place Jake’s up a ways on Wornall appears to be closed and replaced with something terrible. BB’s is not far, same with the aforementioned McGonigles. But Smokestack is a nice easy stop if you work in Waldo, or are out buying random crap at Goodwill across the street (which is what I was doing).

So, it’s a decent place, probably much better for lunch than dinner Why? Well it has to do with my biggest complaint: No beer.

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Aug 152008

A few months ago, I posted about the International Grocery at 80th and Metcalf. In the comments readers Goofy Girl, meesha v. and a blogless gentleman named Leonard mentioned a place nearby called Mediterranean Market. A Twitter shout-out from Bull E. Vard yesterday reminded me, so I was off to check it out.

This is a small, clean market and deli on the East side of Metcalf just north of 75th street. It’s the more spacious and inviting version of International Grocery, for it features at least five tables inside, a well organized series of shelves with various Middle Eastern foodstuffs, and a deli counter with a few meats and cheeses.

The set-up is a little confusing. I ordered my food at the register, but I think I was supposed to go down to the deli counter to place the order. I ordered a chicken shish kebab only to discover that they were out of chicken. Oh well, I went with beef. The guy at the register was possibly the owner, and he was one of the friendliest people I’ve ever encountered in food service. He kept saying “thank you, I hope you like it!”

The menu is small and rather typical: falafel, gyros, kefta, shish kebab, baba ghanoush, hummus, tabouleh, etc. Sure there is a lot to try here but I’m only one man on one day.

After a 10 or 15 minute wait, the sandwich arrived much as you would expect, wrapped in a pita with lettuce, tomato, onion and, well, no sauce. It was a good enough sandwich w/o any sauce because the meat was marinated and fairly well seasoned. The meat was cut into large cubes and then grilled. The cut of beef was a little tough, possibly a sirloin so I wish it was chopped smaller or cooked more rare.

The sandwich came with a generous spoonful of rice. I was really excited because it looked just like the rice pilaf I had at International Grocery which was so good. Alas, the it was simply not up to snuff. It was so salty that I couldn’t finish it (that’s sayin’ somthing) and had been tossed with melted butter. Butter is not bad in and of itself, and can even be nice with rice, but this was far too rich for my taste. I really didn;t want to eat any of it, but unlike that candy-ass Gordon Ramsey I never spit anything out just cuz it ain’t no good.

The plate also had a couple small dill pickle spears and a handful of very good Greek olives, half of which were pitted.

I heard some guys talking about how good the baklava was so I ordered some to take with me. I broke open the container later, veritably thrilled to indulge myself in this delicacy of which I am so fond. As accompaniment, I even splurged on what the machine in the staff room loosely calls a “cafe mocha.” Unfortunately, the substance that they loosely call “hot chocolate-making syrup” had run out and I wound up with a gross, watery coffee.

And a baklava that I did not care for. First, not crunchy. I will give them a break here because I did leave it in a plastic container for a good two hours. The relative heat and humidity probably took its toll. Secondly, it was not even a little sweet. At first, this intrigued me, but the gloppy pistachio filling simply didn’t have any flavor of honey, which is the best thing about baklava. Lastly, it smelled weird, kind of like fried food. I suspect that they brushed it with oil, margarine or some piss-poor approximation of butter.

The best part of my meal was a beverage I had seen but never tried: Vimto. It’s basically a kind of red pop, but a little herbier. M.Toast thinks it tastes like cough syrup and I’ll admit that there is some truth to that. But it didn’t bother me, Vimto lives in that liminal space between medicine and candy much like Luden’s Cherry Cough Drops. I spent my lunch hour thinking about what kind of liquor it would be good with. What did I come up with? Vimto & beer. I’m gonna try it, just you wait.

The real attraction here I’m sure is the selection of imported foods. In addition to canned and boxed goods, they have several kinds of feta cheese for sale by the pound, a whole aisle of cookies and sweets and a nice selection of olive and grapeseed oils.

This was a disappointing visit I’m afraid, but I still like the place. They don’t use bad ingredients or cut corners. I’ve heard very good things about this place, so I suspect that they suffer from inconsistency rather than incompetence. It’s certainly worth a repeat visit to see if they are going on the regular lunch rotation.

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