Maui Express: 8750 Santa Fe

 Posted by at 4:17 pm
Jan 182008

From the outside, this place has the aura of a failed attempt at chain fast food written all over it. And the name is confusing. All I know about hawaiian cuisine is that they bury whole pigs in firepits where they cook for hours on end. That sounds like a whole lotta delicious to me, but Maui Express is a storefront in an ugly strip mall next to a Mr. Goodcents.

Moreover, when you walk in the place, there is a white dude in a mall-bought Hawaiian shirt behind the counter. Now, this gentleman was very friendly and efficient, I really appreciate that. But he had that cult-like way of staring through you found among fundamentalist christians and nerdy white guys who only date quiet asian girls. I’m pegging this guy for both.

The menu at Maui Express is really small, and is definitively Japanese in orientation. That makes sense, given the history and ethnic composition of Hawaii. Foremost among the menu items are “bowls.” Basically these are Rice, steamed vegetable and the meat of your choice with a teriyaki sauce. Instead of white rice you can get noodles or brown rice. The prices are also exceedingly cheap –less than four bucks for the small bowl and under five for the large. Unless you get steak which increases the cost by 1.50 or so. Their motto is “eat healthy” so don’t get the friggin steak because they won;t know what the hell they are doing.

Anyway i ordered a large chicken bowl with brown rice. Everything was well cooked, including the rice. The vegetables, as promised were indeed steamed, but disappointing. You see, they really weren’t the best veggies for the job–carrots, zucchini, and a few broccoli florets. Carrots and zucchini? Really? What is this 1994? Perhaps this is some sort of traditional Japano-Hawaiian preparation that I’m not familiar with, but personally I don;t get real worked up over steamed carrots and zucchini. They also aren’t the best vegetables for you, compared to most others. At least there was no green pepper which would have made me puke.

Chicken teriyaki bowl

Overall the food was very good, particularly the chicken which had been grilled, unlike the rest of the bowl. This provided a nice contrast of textures and flavors. The portion was very good as well. I didn’t finish it all and even struggled to polish off all the chicken in light of my lack of zucchini enthusiasm.

The best part of the whole restaurant, however, was the music. yes the lush strains of Hawaiian music filled the air for my entire stay and I imagine all the live long day. This was a great touch, but unkind to employees. That would drive me insane–try listening to Hawaiian slide guitar for 8 hours straight. I could maybe make it through 4 hours and only if I was drinking.

So in summary, Maui Express is weird. Certainly not a “destination” lunch spot. But if you are hungry and passing through the OP, or if you work nearby and tire of Arby’s bacon and cheddar melts, go for it.

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Jan 142008

This place is easy to miss if you don’t know about it. Despite its high traffic location on 75th just east of Metcalf, Fritz’s is located in a strip mall fairly far back from the street next to an auto parts store. It has a truly charming exterior, complete with a neon sign and big windows. This is charm in the old school sense, not in the tin-ceiling, brick, and exposed ductwork sense. I could just tell this was going to be something special before I got within 100 feet of the place.

Holy cow this place is old school. There is a nice, low lunch counter with chrome stools attached to the floor, reminding us of simpler days when apparently people did not have knees. There is a fair sized “dining room” but it’s a very casual affair–no booths or anything cuddly like that. Each table holds a dispenser of impossibly flimsy napkins, a squirt bottle of vinegar, another bottle of vinegar infused with a healthy handful of hot peppers, and a shaker of chili powder.

Apart from myself, the clientele ranged in age from 75 to 95. This is not a bad thing. Anyhow, as solo diner, i ventured to the lunch counter next to a woman reading the pitch and eating a curious concoction of what must have been “chili.” From a plate. The waitress took one look at me and asked “you ever had our chili before?” Admitting I had not, she grabbed an 81/2” x 11″ laminated sheet and set it on front of me. She told me that this item explained what their version of chili was, and how to order it! This place doesn’t even have a real menu, it’s just posted on a few aging letter boards up on the wall. But they have about 500 words telling you how to order your lunch. I love curmudgeonliness in all its forms.

You see, Fritz’s chili is basically just ground meat and spices. It is not cooked with beans and probably not tomatoes either. But you can order beans with it, along with cheese, onions, and other stuff including “bean sauce” which reminds me of the juice from a can of beans, but is probably not. You see, Fritz doesn’t roll like that. The bean juice serves to moisten the whole affair and is really quite nice. I ordered a hot tamale covered with chili and beans, and a cup of shredded yellow cheese on the side. The waitress called it out to a dude in a white hat and apron who plated it up in about 10 seconds. The food is dished out right behind the counter–most of the prep and heavy duty cooking seems to happen in a large kitchen in the back. I think the kitchen is bigger than the dining room. The waitress, sensing my naivete, brought me some bean sauce in case I found it too dry. And I did, thank you very much. The best part is that the bean sauce came in a ceramic coffee mug. I thought that was very cute.

Anyhow Fritz’s offers their various permutation on chili, as well as chili burgers, and of course, chili dogs. You can get chili in three different sizes, and the plates are carefully hung behind the counter so everyone knows how much they are getting. I have the feeling that this measure, along with the explanatory laminated page, were taken to prevent people from expressing displeasure. They tell you up front what to expect. As my favorite sentence explained “if you just order ‘chili’ you are going to get a plate of ground beef.” This is a very oddball kind of place and I loved it.

Not that the chili was all that great. It just didn’t have a lot of kick or spice or pizazz. I think that you kind of have to find what suits you–the relative blandness lends itself well to multiple toppings and side items. Jalapenos, sour cream, cheese, hot sauce, would all be good. I did like the vinegar a lot, and overall the meal benefited greatly from a modest sprinkling of salt. But it’s not someplace I’m going to visit often. It’s a great slice of what people annoyingly call “Americana”–some dude named Fritz knew how to make chili, never redecorated, and managed to survive the onslaught of suburbanization. Seriously this place is a rarity and is worth a visit for the experience alone. It’s very friendly, extremely quiet, and generally a nice old diner atmosphere. It’s worth a visit once in a while just to keep it in business.

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Jan 102008


I imagine this place is better for a nice dinner than it is for lunch. But rich people gotta go somewhere right?

Welcome to 40 Sardines a truly beautiful restaurant right in the heart of JoCo’s ridiculousness known as Town Center Plaza. Actually is at the edge of TCP but you know what I mean.

40 Sardines is the kind of place you take a client out for lunch. If only I had clients in my line of work. Or perhaps a birthday lunch for a co-worker, if only I worked close to there. Or perhaps someplace to have a nice bite and a glass of wine after a hard morning having your nails done, shopping for the kids at Vera Bradley, and purchasing a $100 cheese grater for the maid at Williams-Sonoma. That’s the lunchtime vibe here.

Not that the food isn’t delicious.

The lunch menu is pretty small for a typical lunch place, but not for a fancy restaurant. If you are up for a nice lunch, there is plenty to be excited about, like wood-fired burger, crispy short rib sandwich, and the Gala apple, maytag blue cheese, confit chicken & bibb lettuce concoction. A few things, like the ‘Olive oil poached ahi tuna melt panini’ make it seem like they are trying too hard. It’s like they are combining three trendy preparations in the hopes that ones of them sticks. The menu changes periodically–sometimes they have a delicious seared scallop dish that is not to be missed and a decent lettuce wrap plate with vietnamese dipping sauce.

The style of the restaurant gets a little lost, but it seems to lean toward the pan-asian classification. I tend to be suspicious of places that don’t have “specialties,” but generally this chef is good enough to pull it off. You won;t have a bad meal here, but it won;t blow you away. The prices are very good for what you get, everything runs between 8 and 13 bucks, but the portions are not huge. But you’ll live.

The service is the usual 20-something kiss your ass bullshit that you get at nice restaurants. They are clearly trained to make small talk, suggest dishes, wines and so-forth which may appeal to some douche bags but not this one. I have had great service there once, and perfectly efficient but semi-annoying service the other few times.

Though I’m not a big wine-drinker, it’s easy to see why folks are impressed with the wine selection. They offer a number of items by the glass and the bottle, including the unbeatable “20 wines for 20 dollars!” Usually places will have maybe one $20 bottle, but this is pretty sweet. But for lunch? not the biggest draw.

JoCo folks love this place because they feel that finally they have a really good locally owned restaurant to be proud of. No, Applebee’s doesn’t count. For my money, Il Trullo beats the pants off 40 Sardines, but it’s kind of apples and oranges. Anyhow, check it out for a pompous good time and some decent eats. If you are the meat and potatoes kind of person, it’s best to skip it.

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Jan 012008

Believe me, I really want to dislike this place. I really do. No it’s not the best sandwich you will ever eat, but it’s a really solid lunch spot with super friendly staff and a casual coffee shop atmosphere. In the summer they have a great little patio and proximity to the park. The lunch menu is small but covers all your bases: deli sandwiches, a selection of salads, a couple of homemade soups, desserts, a full run of espresso drinks and so forth.

Sometimes you just want a sandwich. No bullshit like paninis or subs or foccacia bread. And never, ever “wraps.” Talk about the worst trend in the world. I don’t think KC has received the message that wraps went out in 1999. Anyway I want some good meat, some good bread, some good cheese, lettuce, tomato and the condiment of your choice. Somehow Subway can’t manage to create bread without it being full of air or overly seasoned or just plain wrong. And I’m sure they put artificial aromas in the stuff to fill the failing mall food court with the fictitious odor of baking bread a la Cinnabon or whatever that place is that sells cinnamon rolls the size of basketballs. And people wonder why we’re fat. Well personally my weight is the result of absolutely zero excercise, but I’ve made peace with that.

Anyway Farm to Market is known for their bread which appears in grocery stores all over the metro. While not the best bread around, it is generally the best bread you can get at the local store rather than visiting a bakery itself. They offer the option to grill any sandwich which is great, but generally I pass because the bread is good in its original state.

The staff is quite friendly and helpful, almost to a creepy degree. They have this smiley, almost cultish kind of service ethic. Generally I respect gruffness and efficiency more, but far be it from me to complain. All was explained when I noticed some books for sale in the front window, written by a co-owner of the business. Basically these books look like religious psycho-babble about how running a business brings you closer to God. The author is trying to establish herself as some kind of expert in “faith formation” whatever that is. It seems like a term developed to keep well-educated people interested in church.

Normally out of principle I shirk businesses that espouse overly religious and/or right wing ideals, such as Hobby Lobby, Coors brewing or Chick Fil-A, Forgive my rant here, but we need to realize that decisions we make — like eating lunch — have implications beyond our taste buds. If I go into a restaurant and see a photo of the owner with his arm around Ronald Reagan, I’m gonna think twice about going back. You do what you want. Farm to Market is an exception for the time being. As far as I can tell, my occasional sandwich isn’t supporting an agenda of gay-bashing, religious intolerance or woman-hating. Plus it’s a local business with limited ability to support offending organizations with oversized political contributions.

So I’ll continue to revisit F to M cafe, mostly because I had a cup of sweet potato bisque that was really damn good and I want more. Prices are relatively good–soup and half sandwich for 7.95. With a drink you’ll easily spend 10 bucks which is sort of my unofficial cutoff for a reasonable lunch these days.

It’s downtown Overland Park location is pretty charming. I really like downtown OP as a physical environs and was surprised to see as many empty storefronts as there are. I suppose most of the money and development has moved to the southern end of the county, leaving some of these first suburbs to struggle a little more. A taste of their own historical medicine I suppose. The business that are on that stretch of Santa Fe seem to be doing well, however, and the street is far from deserted in the midday. Mostly retirees and joco homemakers, from the looks of it, but I have seen the occasional lunch break dude eating at F to M. Anyhow, even a heathen like me gives this place a thumbs-up. Until I can find a good reason to actually hate it. Happy eating!

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Dec 282007

Poco’s closed to the public on March 16 but has since reopened. This review reflects my experience at the first incarnation.

Everyone wants to love this place, and it’s easy to see why. The owner works in the kitchen, the staff is very friendly. The space is cute, and the location is off-kilter enough to make it interesting. It’s hard to argue with all that.

I visited during lunch hour and found the place nearly devoid of customers, but I think Poco’s does a better breakfast trade anyway. It’s interesting to see such a combination of American and Latin cuisine, but not in the same dishes, just on the same menu. The menu features both American classics and gussied-up Mexican fare. For instance, at breakfast you can get huevos rancheros or pancakes with sausage. For lunch you can have fish tacos or a cheeseburger. Great, something for everyone, right? But as I sat there with my menu, I found myself wondering: Do I really want a reuben from a Mexican restaurant? Do I really want tacos at an American restaurant?

I want to know what they do best, and that’s my responsibility as a diner and a lackadaisical blogger. I figured, let’s go with the mole. Mole is pure Mexico, and not every Mexican place has it on the menu. Not unlike barbeque sauce or marinara, there are different types and techniques with everyone claiming to have to best version of this revered sauce. And it is notoriously difficult to make from scratch. Now I’ve had mole in various incarnations at many Mexican restaurants. I have even foolishly attempted to make mole in my own home–the kitchen looked like a crime scene when it was all over. Alas the mole at Poco’s had all the indications of being made from a commonly available paste, and I can’t really blame them. Tasty, but pedestrian. It came atop chunks of poached chicken breast-certainly not a traditional implementation. It was satisfying but underwhelming. With decent corn tortillas, refried beans and excellent rice, it was nonetheless worth 7.95.

Due to this, I think I might just try breakfast fare next time. It doesn’t seem like they are trying too hard with that and other people’s food looked tasty. Poco’s does offer a nice selection of beer to take the edge off a morning’s hard work. The place has windows all around the perimeter which invites great natural light and a vista of industrial KCK in all its glory. As a lunch spot, you can probably do better for Mexican on the Boulevard. But if you have a hankering for breakfast food, or just want a friendly change of pace, it’s a bit of allright.

Don’t want to take my word for it? here are some other reviews from

Poco's on the Boulevard on Urbanspoon

Cooking in KC

The Pitch

and Noodletown

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Dec 272007


This new-ish neighborhood spot is nestled in a small string of shops just west of Rockhill road. I actually think the block-long strip mall is one of the early JC Nichols projects, but I could be mixing it up with someplace else. Anyhow, the location is great, mostly because this residential area between main and troost really needs some more interesting places to eat. Noodle Shop is just far enough away from UMKC that it will likely attract more professorial types who live in the area south of the campus, rather than students. But it might be a nice change of pace from Einstein’s, Planet sub and Kin Lin which are the sad options for the struggling student.

I was really pleased to see that this is a noodle shop in the purely asian style. I despise those places that specialize in all things noodles–spaghetti, asian, mac and cheese–it’s just silly. Thankfully this place is a real restaurant, run by people who know what they are doing, and do it well. The menu is short and simple: Pickles and noodles. The pickles come in a variety of permutations, from cucumber pickles, to traditional kim chee, to daikon radish. They all have a distinctive appeal and are clearly homemade.

As for noodles, you can concoct your own assemblage from the list of ingredients or choose a specialty. The menus are essentially checklists, you just check off what you want, hand it to the server and they put it together for you. The best part of the whole experience is sitting at the counter and watching the guys assemble the meals. The two giant vats in which they cook noodles are always in action, and the chef in constantly running around slicing and dicing various ingredients that seem exotic but probably aren’t.

As far as I can tell, Noodle Shop does not have a grill or an oven. I think all the cooked ingredients are steamed, boiled, poached or similarly prepared. This is somewhat of a downer since grilled meats go so well with noodle dishes. But the pot roast style beef I had was delicious, almost the equal of the comparable noodle place Blue Koi. The pork and chicken have consistencies that may not be immediately pleasing to the palate, but if you just roll with it, you won;t be disappointed.

The chalk board behind the counter lists a dizzying array of condiments available for your dining pleasure. Everything from sriracha to yellow mustard to fish sauce to stuff I’ve never heard of are represented. There must be 20 condiments. Wow.

The best part of the whole experience is the laid-back and friendly atmosphere. The staff is extremely helpful and efficient. They are more than willing to explain various dishes, and food comes out quite quickly. The space is small and tasteful, certainly not over-pretentious. The clientele is the usual assortment of Brookside lame-o’s. As the review over at Give in to Temptation put it “the place was peppered with 30-somethings that looked like they had money.” I concur. I was the 30-something without money sitting at the counter.

Anyhow, this formerly useless strip mall is now a place where I will actually go from time to time. It’s the sort of spot that probably needs some help getting off the ground and staying viable, but if they get a liquor license any time soon, I can help them out with that.

Dec 202007

It’s never a good sign when you walk into a BBQ restaurant and the first thing you see is a sign: “this is a non-smoking establishment.” I’ll say.


Zarda’s clearly does good business and even satisfies enough people to do a nice catering trade on the side. But for real, people, you know what the sliced meats reminded me of?


We’re talking really thinly-sliced meat. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself but it really takes the texture element out of eating BBQ. And like that other place, Zarda’s meat has very little smoke flavor. I have eaten both the pork and beef brisket, and was not impressed. The food is not poor quality, it’s just not great BBQ. The texture of a soft hoagie bun (blasphemy) and a pile of shaved meat is pleasant, but you might as well be eating a sandwich from Hy-Vee with barbecue sauce on it. Mediocre sauce.

Here is the key to enjoying your meal at Zarda: don’t order the sliced meats, rather opt for pulled pork or burnt ends. I ordered the pork on a whim one time and was pleasantly surprised by the excellent texture and quite a bit of hickory smoke flavor. So next time I went I ordered the burnt ends and they too were smoky though a little lacking in that definitive fatty, crunchy texture you want in burnt ends.

Burnt ends

Pulled pork

The fries are not good: cheap, frozen steak fries. Opt for the lightly battered potato wedges which are fine, but I don’t like to get fancy with fries. The beans are average but the fried pickle chips are pretty tasty (wish I had snapped a photo). Speaking of pickles, be sure to ask for a dill spear when you order; they don’t come automatically with your food.

The decor is woodsy in a fairly convincing manner, except for the light-up menu signs behind the counter which make it look a little like McDonald’s. At lunch, they get really busy, but the service is quick as hell, and I got my food in less than 5 minutes. The restaurant is frequented almost entirely by 40-ish polo-shirt-wearing JoCo types taking a break from whatever irresponsible bullshit they sell to participate in a KC tradition without having to interact with black people. I think my gut reaction to the clientele is largely what accounts for this particularly un-sunny review. They are what I used to call yuppies, but they’re really not. Yuppies were people who lived in cities, made a lot of money in cutthroat fashion, wore suspenders and drank good coffee. The new breed are people who live in suburbs or ex-urbs and live their lives as if there were no consequences. The world’s problems pale in comparison to their own financial and familial ups and downs. Thank God they are too self-absorbed to vote.

Whew. Sorry. It’s really not that bad.

Anyway, Zarda seems to have been around for a while, and is clearly well-liked. The prices are a little higher than normal. You will spend ten bucks on lunch easily–just another reason why it’s not going on the regular rotation, since there is better to be had elsewhere.

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 Posted by at 4:46 pm
Dec 112007



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Mr. Gyros: 83rd & Metcalf

 Posted by at 11:13 pm
Dec 052007

Mr. Gyros is hilarious in many respects. Firstly, its name brings a smile to my face because I picture a little talking gyro. Kind of like that Arby’s talking oven mitt, only not stupid and idiotic. Mr. Gyros also looks hilarious. I mean the faux-Greek temple thing is awesome–as if to shout “this is a temple of processed lamb goodness.” It’s actually easy to miss because it’s white and kind of clean cut in a way that most fast food joints aren’t. As someone pointed out to me recently, it looks like a bank.

Now, before I tried it, I had heard from several people (some of them actually reliable) that Mr. Gyros was awesome, not to be missed. So naturally I was prepared to hate it. Nothing raises more red flags with me than someone telling me that so-and-so’s has the best ______ in town. This is particularly true when you are talking about a fast food spot which Mr. Gyros, despite a few weird indications to the contrary, most definitely is. Among people who grew up in JoCo in particular, the place is the stuff of legend and well-revered. Which is also hilarious.

All that being said, Mr Gyros may have the best gyro I’ve ever eaten.

Mr. Gyros

And it’s a simple thing: pita, meat, tomato, onion, period. And a side of flawless tzatziki sauce. The pita is warm and soft. The meat is tender, well-seasoned, and lacking in undesirable mystery components that one occasionally finds in less reputable Greek establishments. My one complaint? It’s small, real small. You can’t get by on just a sandwich, you need something else like a salad or at least a piece of delicious homemade baklava. Or better yet, two gyros.

Mr. Gyros

So, now I have to go back–again and again, which is really too bad, because I was all prepared to hate it and continue to mock the Greek bank from afar.

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